Toward a More Just System of Care in Molecular Pathology

Original Scholarship Health Equity

Policy Points:

  • American health care policy must be critically assessed to establish the role it plays in sustaining and alleviating the health disparities that currently exist in molecular genetic testing.
  • It is critical to understand the economic and sociocultural influences that drive patients to undergo or forgo molecular testing, especially in marginalized patient populations.
  • A multipronged solution with actions necessary from multiple stakeholders is required to reduce the cost of health care, rebalance regional disparities, encourage physician engagement, reduce data bias, and earn patients’ trust.

Context: The health status of a population is greatly influenced by both biological processes and external factors. For years, minority and low socioeconomic patient populations have faced worse outcomes and poorer health in the United States. Experts have worked extensively to understand the issues and find solutions to alleviate this disproportionate burden of disease. As a result, there have been some improvements and successes, but wide gaps still exist. Diagnostic molecular genetic testing and so-called personalized medicine are just now being integrated into the current American health care system. The way in which these tests are integrated can either exacerbate or reduce health disparities.

Methods: We provide case scenarios—loosely based on real-life patients— so that nonexperts can see the impacts of complex policy decisions and unintentional biases in technology without needing to understand all the intricacies. We use data to explain these findings from an extensive literature search examining both peer-reviewed and gray literature.

Findings: Access to diagnostic molecular genetic testing is not equitable or sufficient, owing to at least five major factors: (1) cost to the patient, (2) location, (3) lack of provider buy-in, (4) data-set bias, and (5) lack of public trust.

Conclusions: Molecular genetic pathology can be made more equitable with the concerted efforts of multiple stakeholders. Confronting the five major factors identified here may help us usher in a new era of precision medicine without its discriminatory counterpart.


Lilley C, Delille M, Mirza K, Parilla M. Toward a More Just System of Care in Molecular Pathology. Milbank Q. 2022;100(4):1201.