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Consumer interest in DNA testing has exploded, helping to ignite a new "hybrid" model of genetic testing that blends elements of traditional laboratories with direct-to-consumer models (DTC) models like 23andMe, according to new research published in JAMA Network.
It’s tough to quantify what proportion of genetic tests is fulfilled via hybrid models versus traditional and DTC models, but data suggests hybrid labs are eating up a big chunk of genetic testing: A large traditional laboratory recently reported that it’s conducted 4 million genetic tests since launching in 1991, while a hybrid laboratory reported it’s conducted 1.4 million tests since its founding in 2004.
Hybrid DNA labs emerged to bridge the gap left by traditional and DTC genetic tests — which are centric to either the clinician or the consumer, not both.
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Traditional, physician-led genetic testing models power clinical insights, but at the expense of consumer convenience and choice. Historically, consumers have played a passive role in genetic testing: Physicians have ordered the tests, received and interpreted the results, and prescribed treatment. This model often compromises the patient experience, as consumers might have to visit a separate laboratory to conduct their test and may not have a clear understanding of test prices.
DTC genetic testing offers consumers the flexibility of sidestepping physicians — but results often aren’t adequate to inform treatment decisions. For example, last November, when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a 23andMe DTC test that informs consumers whether their genetic variation could impact their ability to metabolize certain drugs, the FDA earmarked the approval with stipulations outlining that patients and providers should augment 23andMe’s results with clinical testing before making treatment decisions.
The hybrid model aims to bridge this gap by offering consumers the convenience of DTC without compromising clinical usefulness. In the hybrid model, a patient’s physician orders a test from a hybrid lab — such as Invitae, Color, and Natera — which a patient may complete in the convenience of their home.
And because hybrid labs are regulated the same way traditional labs are, they provide medical-grade results on par with traditional labs. Moreover, hybrid tests tend to be cheaper than traditional tests, making them more attractive to consumers seeking cheaper healthcare services.
The evolution of DNA testing underscores how consumers have the power to upend longstanding industry sectors with their distaste for traditional models — a reality that’s not confined to genetic testing. For example, consumers are also flocking to walk-in health clinics, forcing providers to expand their geographic footprints to offer consumers health services in more convenient locations: Between 2008 and 2015, retail clinic utilization jumped 214%, while visits to the emergency department for low-acuity conditions decreased 36%.
This shift is fueled in part by patient preferences for convenience, shorter wait times, and lower costs, and has prompted providers to set up shop in nonhealthcare settings like grocery stores and pharmacies. We expect more sectors of healthcare will be forced to bend their services with new, consumer-centric models, accelerated by the pressure of deep-pocketed entrants with strong customer experience backgrounds like Amazon and Apple muscling into the space.
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