During the first full day of a new three-and-a-half day conference being held this week at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas, David T. Feinberg, M.D., the president and CEO of the 13-hospital, Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger health system, articulated a vision of care for the communities the system serves that extends far beyond traditional care delivery, and encompasses literally feeding and housing those in need. Dr. Feinberg’s speech stood out as visionary even among numerous vision-focused statements made at the “HLTH: The Future of Healthcare” conference, sponsored by a team led by HLTH founder, chairman and CEO Jonathan Weiner, who founded and has led Money 20/20, a well-known financial services industry conference, and Shoptalk, a retail and e-commerce conference.
At the outset of his keynote speech, Dr. Feinberg, who became Geisinger’s CEO in 2016, detailed the recent announcement of the MyCode Community Health Initiative, which was first publicly revealed on March 14. As an article co-authored by Dr. Feinberg, Huntington F. Willard, and David H. Ledbetter and published online on March 14 in the Harvard Business Review explained it, “Standard screening tests such as colonoscopy, mammography, and cholesterol measurement are fine for individuals at average risk for cancer and heart disease but are inadequate for people whose genetic profiles put them at much higher risk. Current clinical guidelines, based primarily on families large enough to show a positive family history for that condition, fail to identify about half of the high-risk individuals in the population. For those individuals, we need a different approach that accurately forecasts their risk and anticipates their health needs,” the article’s authors stated. “To this end, Geisinger has launched a DNA sequencing project with the potential to identify virtually everyone in our patient population who is at increased risk for early onset, inherited cancer and cardiac events. Already we have identified more than 500 patients who are at increased risk for disease and have uncovered previously undetected cases of cancer and heart disease, allowing our doctors to treat these much earlier than they could have otherwise.”
David T. Feinberg, M.D.
The March 14 article went on to say that, “In our precision health programs, sequencing the known functional parts of the genome for our patients is becoming a clinical reality, not just as a diagnostic test for patients who present with particular symptoms, but for all patients in our community. Understanding their genome’s warning signals is now an essential part of their health forecasting, wellness planning, and health management. As full partners in their own care, they can now work with their physicians to modify lifestyle or behaviors to mitigate the risks that have been revealed, and to anticipate future health needs. This type of forecasting allows us to provide truly anticipatory “health care,” instead of the responsive “sick care” that has long been the health care system’s default.”
In his speech on Sunday afternoon at the HLTH Conference, Dr. Feininger announced a new care delivery protocol at Geisinger, in which patients undergoing routine testing in a number of areas will be offered genetic testing free of charge. He noted that “We have about 200,000 patients, through a research study with Regeneron, who have consented” to participate in the MyCode Community Health Initiative. “And they’ve come up with incredible research insights,” he said, referring to Geisinger’s genetic researchers. “But we felt the research was going too slowly in crossing the chasm,” which is why, he said, “We’re announcing here today, that when patients come in for routine tests such as colonoscopy and mammography, we will be offering them genetic screening, free of charge.” Sunday’s announcement had been hinted at broadly in an April 30 press release, in which Feinberg had stated that “We think it’s time to transition our successful genomics program beyond the realm of research and into routine clinical care for all of our patients.”