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by Jessica Lea, PharmD, CEO of Tria Health

The US Department of Health and Human Services says that our country is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. As result, today more than ever is a time to recognize mental health. In fact, one in four people in the United States is expected to experience a mental health crisis at least once in their lifetime.

In the workplace, an employee dealing with a mental health condition is more likely to be unintentionally less productive and efficient. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), employee performance declines in more than one third of employees dealing with a mental health issue. As a result, productivity losses in the workplace can be staggering. For example, depression alone can cost up to $50 billion per year in lost productivity. 

Mental Health Drugs: Trial and Error

The treatment of mental health often involves a combination of therapy and medication, but finding the right medication and right dosage for an individual can be a trial-and-error approach and can become a long, drawn-out process.

Pharmacogenomics, genetic testing which seeks to identify genetic markers to understand how individual patients metabolize medicine, can pinpoint why some people develop side effects to mental health medications while others do not.In fact, studies have shown that 50% of all medications are ineffective or minimally effectively almost due entirely to an individual genetic variation.

By understanding how an individual reacts to various medicines to treat mental health issues, pharmacogenomics can play a significant role in finding the right medication, reducing the trial-and-error approach, and essentially improving mental health outcomes.

As an employer, why use pharmacogenomics?

Employers agree – pharmacogenomics testing is highly sought after, especially for those with employees who experience mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges.  

Though pharmacogenomics can be expensive, adverse drug reactions are also costly. In the United States, adverse drug reactions cause more than 1.3 million emergency department visits and more than 350,000 hospitalizations per year. All of these facets cause increased health care costs for individuals and their employers.

An employer can possibly control costs when offering pharmacogenomics testing by designing a benefits plan that provides testing to high-risk individuals. Essentially it can help reduce health care costs and positively affect a business’ bottom line.

How does pharmacogenomics testing work?

The test is conducted with a basic cheek swab to test against 300+ medications to determine how the genetic variations affect the response to specific drugs. We have seen success across many conditions, but especially related to medications used to treat mental health. In addition, we have seen optimal benefits when a pharmacist interprets the results.

Pharmacogenomics has the potential to transform health care

Overall, pharmacogenomics testing has the potential to revolutionize the way mental health drugs are prescribed, making them safer and more effective for individual patients. The information gathered from a test can be used to tailor mental health medication regimens to individual patients, reducing the risk of trial-and-error prescribing, and improving outcomes.

For a person suffering a mental health condition, pharmacogenomics can provide information so that the patient can be treated with the right medication from the onset of treatment.

The positive impacts for the employer and the patient are numerous. This includes more focused days at work, fewer doctor appointments, and fewer mental health challenges, for example, which all result in happier, healthier employees. Plus, it reduces costs for the employer and for health care.

Pharmacogenomics is a rapidly growing and evolving field, which is increasing access and reducing costs for employers.  It is an exciting area of research, especially in the treatment of mental health. It has the potential to transform healthcare.

Dr. Jessica Lea, Pharm D, is founder and CEO of Tria Health, a comprehensive health benefit offered through self-insured employers for individuals with chronic conditions. Dr. Lea has a background in mental health. She also is passionate about pharmacists providing patient-centered care to improve the health outcomes of patients. This was her catalyst for starting Tria Health. Tria Health works in markets throughout the United States, including but not limited to Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Charlotte, Denver, Seattle, Wichita and Kansas City.