Personalized medicine and access to health care: potential for inequitable access?

Eur J Hum Genet. 2013 Feb;21(2):143-7. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2012.149. Epub 2012 Jul 11.


Personalized medicine promises that an individual's genetic information will be increasingly used to prioritize access to health care. Use of genetic information to inform medical decision making, however, raises questions as to whether such use could be inequitable. Using breast cancer genetic risk prediction models as an example, on the surface clinical use of genetic information is consistent with the tools provided by evidence-based medicine, representing a means to equitably distribute limited health-care resources. However, at present, given limitations inherent to the tools themselves, and the mechanisms surrounding their implementation, it becomes clear that reliance on an individual's genetic information as part of medical decision making could serve as a vehicle through which disparities are perpetuated under public and private health-care delivery models. The potential for inequities arising from using genetic information to determine access to health care has been rarely discussed. Yet, it raises legal and ethical questions distinct from those raised surrounding genetic discrimination in employment or access to private insurance. Given the increasing role personalized medicine is forecast to play in the provision of health care, addressing a broader view of what constitutes genetic discrimination, one that occurs along a continuum and includes inequitable access, will be needed during the implementation of new applications based on individual genetic profiles. Only by anticipating and addressing the potential for inequitable access to health care occurring from using genetic information will we move closer to realizing the goal of personalized medicine: to improve the health of individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics
  • Delivery of Health Care / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility* / ethics
  • Health Services Accessibility* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Precision Medicine / ethics*