Telemedicine services appear to drive genetic testing

By Laura Lovett
02:00 pm
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Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have found that telemedicine services could lead to an increase in genetic counseling in community care centers, according to an abstract that will be presented tomorrow at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting.

Seventy-seven percent of participants in the study's remote group, who were offered genetic counseling via video or phone, went on to complete the counseling, compared to just six percent of patients in the usual care group who were given instructions on where to go for the services, according to numbers that have been updated since the abstract was submitted. 

"The data definitively show the impact of remote genetic services, and it's clear from this study that this telemedicine approach improves on what community practices can do on their own,” Dr. Angela Bradbury, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of Hematology, said in a statement. "That said, it's noteworthy that just 56 percent of patients who underwent remote counseling went on to undergo genetic testing. It shows we still have work to do to help equip patients with this information, which can be life-saving in some cases.”

The study was made up of 115 participants. Of that, a majority were female, white, and did not attend college. Roughly 65 percent of participants had a history of cancer. 

During the trial, participants were split into two groups. One group was given instructions on how to see a genetic counselor. The opposing intervention group was further split into two groups: one group received genetic counseling by phone and the other by telemedicine. 

The authors of the study noted that the subset that had videoconferencing had a greater increase in knowledge and a greater decrease in depression compared to the phone group. 

Fifty-six percent of patients in the remote group who underwent genetic counseling went on to receive genetic testing. In the usual care arm, 17 percent of patients underwent genetic testing. 

"The data confirm that some people in community practices are getting testing without going through counseling first, and previous studies have shown that patients have lower levels of knowledge and lower satisfaction when that happens," Bradbury said in a statement.

Authors noted that this is a preliminary finding and more studies are needed in the future. 

Consumer genetic testing has become increasingly popular as companies like 23andMe and Helix gain steam. In fact, in November FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced his agency's intention to make a major change to its regulatory process around direct-to-consumer genetic health risk tests.