Your Next Doctor Visit May Include Genetic Testing: One Chicago-Area Health System Is Checking 10,000 Patients For Free

Some consumers also have been wary of genetic tests that tell them if they're at higher risk of developing conditions for which there aren't any cures, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. Many popular direct-to-consumer tests include such results, but many people don't want know if they have higher-than-average chances of getting incurable diseases they can't prevent.

NorthShore's test, however, won't analyze patients' genomes for those, or other similar conditions, Hulick said.

"We're focusing on genes where there are methods to more effectively screen or prevent disease," Hulick said. But by sequencing a patient's whole genome, NorthShore can turn back to that patient's genetic information in the future as science advances, potentially offering more answers about genes, health risks and treatments for certain diseases, he said.

NorthShore will offer the tests to patients at about one-third of its 30 primary care practices, which are mostly in the northern suburbs. Participants' blood samples will be sent to Color for testing.

They'll get results in about three weeks and be connected with genetic counselors and specialists who can help them if their results show genetic mutations that could put them at higher risk of certain diseases.

NorthShore hopes to make the tests available to a broad swath of primary care patients at the participating practices, though the health system is still determining if there are criteria patients will have to meet to be part of the program. By giving genetic tests to more patients, NorthShore hopes to help those who might not otherwise suspect they're at higher risk of developing certain diseases.

"We really believe that genomics is a critical piece of understanding the whole picture of the patient," said Kristen Murtos, chief administrative and strategy officer at NorthShore.

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