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Prevention, Use of Health Services, and Genes: Implications of Genetics for Policy Formation

Article first published online: March 30, 2015

George L. Wehby, Benjamin W. Domingue & Jason D. Boardman

What was the genesis of the idea for your research/paper?

There is evidence that genes influence health status as well as several behaviors and personality traits that may in turn influence demand for health services and investment in prevention. Therefore, it is plausible that genes may also explain some of the variation in prevention and use of health services that we see in a population. Therefore, we sought out to quantify the extent to which genetic differences can explain this variation considering a wide range of measures of preferences towards prevention, prevention effort, and use of health services.

What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is your main takeaway?)

Genes explain some of the variation that we see between individuals in their preferences towards engaging in prevention, prevention effort, and preventive visits. We also find that genes influence use of prescription drugs, number of chronic conditions, and overall health status. Recognizing this can be useful for social scientists who are interested in studying demand for prevention and health services and has several implications for policy formation.

What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions did you find in the process of bringing this together?

The magnitude of genetic influence is particularly interesting; close to one third of the variation in prevention preferences and effort can be explained by genes; similarly, up to 40% of the variation in having a preventive visit and use of prescription drugs can be genetically influenced. This indicates that genes play an important role not only in our health such as by modifying predisposition to chronic conditions but also in our health behaviors and preferences for engaging in prevention which could in turn affect our health and wellbeing. However, not all measures of health service use appear to be strongly linked to genes. For example, we did not find evidence for strong genetic influence on being hospitalized or receiving outpatient treatments for physical illness.

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Author's Bio

Dr. Wehby is trained as a health economist and health services researcher and has significant expertise in designing studies that employ large datasets and econometric techniques to identify healthcare, economic, behavioral, and policy effects on health.

Dr. Wehby is particularly interested in studying the long-term effects of health shocks, evaluating economic effects on health, identifying treatment effect heterogeneity, explaining health disparities, examining the impact of health insurance coverage, and understanding genetic influences on the demand for health and healthcare including genetic interactions with policy and environmental effects.


Wehby JPAM Article