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Jason Olson, Deseret News
Dr. Marc S. Williams, director of the Intermountain Clinical Genetics Institute, explains the new data-sharing system.

People with genetic mutations that predispose them to medical problems can now receive more specialized care that may forestall or prevent disease with a new method of transferring genetic information between laboratory and hospital.

Scientists at LDS Hospital announced Wednesday that they can now transfer comprehensive genetic test data electronically, giving doctors a "bigger picture" of patients' potential for developing disease.

Dr. Marc Williams, director of the Intermountain Clinical Genetics Institute at LDS Hospital, said the technology will allow that big picture to reside within an individual patient's electronic medical record, vastly expanding the detail and accessibility of information needed to make better treatment decisions.

While there are legitimate concerns that such information could be used against patients by large health systems to deny insurance to the same patients they treat, officials said appropriate firewalls will be put in place to restrict access to genetic data. That, in addition to recent legislation detailing privacy of genetic data, should be balanced with concerns about inappropriate access, officials said.

Dr. Stan Huff, whose IHC research team worked with Boston-based Partners HealthCare to build that new data hub, said the technology will help provide "the highest quality health care at the lowest cost based on a person's own unique characteristics."

The technology initiative incorporates standardized components that allow any hospital or laboratory that wants to join into the communications network to do so. At this point, the only facilities connected by the technology, called VariantWire, are LDS Hospital and Partners Center for Personalized Genetics Medicine, a genetics lab which is part of Partners Healthcare. That facility maintains "a unique repository of electronic records for thousands of Utah patients."

Huff said the system will also:

Provide built-in notification if doctors try to order duplicate tests that wouldn't benefit the patient.

Give detailed information about past treatment regimens.

Provide individualized recommendations for drug dosages.

Help avoid prescription of drugs patients already have a known allergy to.

Incorporate ethnic genetic variations into suggested treatment protocols that allow doctors to better tailor treatment to the individual patient.

"This effort will likely serve as a model for the rest of the nation," said Sandy Aronson, executive director of information technology at the Partners Healthcare lab. "It's a major advance in the area of electronic medicine."

e-mail: carrie@desnews.com