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New Geisinger Health Center Merges Telehealth, Genomics

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Geisinger Health System is bringing telehealth into the future of precision medicine by making the technology integral to its new genetic research and counseling center.  The Precision Health Center, which opened its doors earlier this week, will bring together researchers, clinicians, and patients through remote conferencing to explore the impact of genetics on the development and treatment of diseases.

Telehealth and genomic research

"This new facility certainly represents the introduction of genomic medicine in this region of Pennsylvania, and much of what we will be doing here will be completely groundbreaking in terms of research and direct patient care," said Glenn D. Steele Jr., MD, PhD, president and chief executive officer of Geisinger Health System (GHS).

"The genomic data that will become available to our team at Forty Fort will allow us to give patients access to genomically informed health care in a manner and at a scale that has not been seen before," added Michael Murray, MD, director of clinical genomics, Geisinger Genomic Medicine Institute.

"In the facility's initial phase, we will be consulting with people engaged in Geisinger's MyCode Community Health Initiative; however we expect to expand the use of this cutting-edge telegenomics technology at the new Precision Health Center rapidly in order to extend this type of care to providers and their patients anywhere."

Geisinger has a long history of success with telehealth as a way to expand access to specialty care for patients, with programs ranging from tele-ICU services to sleep medicine to fetal urology and maternal care.  In 2014, a study of telehealth within the system found a 23 percent drop in hospital admissions for heart failure when patients were given Bluetooth scales, routine access to a dedicated care manager, and an interactive voice response system that allowed them to record daily symptoms, concerns, and overall progress.

The addition of telehealth to the new genomic research and counseling center is an innovative step towards precision medicine, highlighted in January during President Obama’s State of the Union address.  The ongoing $215 million initiative hopes to uncover insights into the role of genetics in a patient’s response to treatment or risk of developing a disease.  

The Geisinger center has already sequenced 30,000 exomes and has plans to add 250,000 more.  Patients will be able to view their validated genetic results, but the bulk of the data will be deidentified for research purposes.

By integrating telehealth into the process of consulting with patients about their genetic makeup, "patients around the block or around the globe will be able to receive care from the center, with professionals delivering care on-site as well as through a state-of-the-art telehealth program," Dr. Murray said. "The center will encourage scientific investigation and education through collaborations with colleges and universities, including clinical, health economics and pharmacy research programs."

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