Planning for Wellness With 23andMe

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who purchased prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will not. Those customers will have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data.

After spending 15 years as a primary care physician, Dr. Mark Costa wanted a better way to practice medicine, one that gave him more time with each of his patients.

So the Boston area physician and his wife, Marilyn Chown, a medical researcher and nurse, opened a small medical practice of their own. The idea was that it would be large enough to sustain itself as a business, but not so big that he didn’t have time to get to know his patients and their problems.

Instead of a stacked patient-load that left them rushing from one case to another, their concierge practice limited the number of people they treated. This gave the couple time to tailor wellness plans for the people they treated.

“It’s a little bit more of the old family doctor routine,” Dr. Costa said.

With each patient, he and his wife delve into their medical chart; they look through their charts and even the person’s home and work life. Although family medical history is considered a cornerstone, Dr. Costa said most people don’t remember those details well. Many patients can’t give him accurate information about their family medical history, he said.

“It’s often extremely vague or misleading,” Dr. Costa said.

So at some point, his wife suggested looking at getting genetic tests done as a way to fill in the gap.

“There is a lot of evidence that, interpreted correctly, genetic testing can be extremely powerful,” he said. “Traditional medicine is very reactive. You come in with symptoms, a diagnosis is made, and treatment is made. With genetic testing, you can be more proactive. You can pick up diseases earlier and you might be able to prevent them.”

He and his wife have started incorporating the test into their practice and they’ve already seen a handful of patients benefit from the test.

In one case, learning of a woman’s higher risk for Celiac Disease, lead Dr. Costa to order some routine blood test that confirmed she had the disease. A simple change in her diet helped alleviate the symptoms. In another case, he found that a patient showed a markedly higher genetic risk for sickle cell and in another a patient showed a higher risk for clotting.

“Overall, incorporating 23andMe into my practice has definitely helped me serve my patients better, in a more thorough and complete fashion.”

Results vary due to unique differences in each individual’s DNA. On average, users receive at least one or two results that may help with proactively managing health. 23andMe’s services are NOT a substitute for professional medical or diagnostic advice.