Increase competitive edge — St. Clair Health

New pharmacogenetics program offers local hospital differentiation

Karl E. Bushman, M.D., FACP, speaks to a patient about pharmacogenomics options.

After St. Clair Health joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network, Karl E. Bushman, M.D., recalls early interest in connecting with Mayo Clinic research. Dr. Bushman is an internist and the care management medical director at St. Clair Health.

"I remember hearing a Mayo Clinic expert speak on precision medicine," Dr. Bushman says. "He shared a story about a person who overcame significant problems with medical side effects through the use of pharmacogenetics (PGx) data. It was really inspiring. I immediately wanted that capability available for St. Clair Health patients."

Shortly thereafter, he was tapped to lead a committee to figure out a way a way to offer St. Clair patients pharmacogenetics, a cutting-edge program that combines pharmacology and genomics to analyze how individual genetic makeup affects the response to medications.

"I saw PGx as an opportunity to distinguish our hospital here in Pittsburgh, and I knew we could do it well," he says. "We knew we could learn how to establish our program from Mayo Clinic given our care network relationship. We have relied on Mayo Clinic for other things."

According to Dr. Bushman, Mayo Clinic organized a multidisciplinary team that visited St. Clair Health. "They answered our key questions. The face-to-face time created rapport and trust among our teams — giving us more confidence to move ahead," he says.

St. Clair's team examined Mayo Clinic's process and created a program plan that was tested to ensure success. "PGx can help with a number of situations," Dr. Bushman says. "An example is when a patient is on a lot of medications and not tolerating them well or worried that they might be taking the wrong combination. Some patients might use PGx just to have additional information about their overall health. Ultimately, it's a patient's choice to tap into the PGx program. In fact, some patients request it."

To obtain the reports, St. Clair relies on its own drawing lab to obtain blood samples, which are sent to Mayo Clinic Laboratories. "Mayo is our reference lab," he says. "There are other labs in our area that can provide PGx analysis, but what sets the Mayo Clinic test apart is the clinical interface and personalized interpretation that shows what genes the patient has and what medicines and dosages should be used. I'm not a lab guy; I'm a clinical guy. So I like having that additional information. It's much more user-friendly."

PGx and the relationship with Mayo Clinic are more tools in St. Clair's arsenal, according to Dr. Bushman. "PGx is another part of the puzzle and completes the picture for physicians. It becomes a reference point for the future when dosing new medications," he says. "As for Mayo Clinic, I've been very impressed with the people involved in helping us with the program. They are knowledgeable, reasonable, practical and easy to work with. Every time we call on them for help, we get an even better sense of the depth of their research, resources and medical practice, and that can only be good for us and our patients."