Surging interest in consumer DNA testing has pushed far ahead of physicians’ relevant training and knowledge of genetics, and this, in turn, limits their ability to engage with patients who have done genetic testing.
But a new study found that when physicians undergo direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests themselves, the process boosts their interest, confidence, and comfort with this type of genetic testing, offering new opportunities to engage with their patients.
Learning More about 23andMe
The national study, done by researchers at Duke University’s Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine and at 23andMe, included the evaluation of attitudes and knowledge of primary care physicians before and after they themselves underwent DNA testing with 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry Service.
Most of the 130 doctors who participated in the survey said they wanted to learn more about consumer genetic testing, gain a better understanding of the clinical utility and application of genetic testing, and use that information to better counsel their patients.
Perceptions and Understanding
The study allowed researchers to gauge how testing might change their familiarity with genetic concepts, personal genetic testing, and the role that genetics plays in the risk for common diseases.
“We found that doctors’ understanding and perceptions of DTC genetic testing changed significantly after testing,” said 23andMe’s lead on medical outreach Esther Kim, PharmD, who was also a co-author of the paper.
The Impact of Testing
Before testing, only about a quarter of the primary care physicians surveyed said they were comfortable discussing genetics or genetic risks. After using the service this changed significantly. Almost 60 percent felt more confident with such discussions after undergoing testing. A majority of physicians also said they thought testing could be used to motivate healthy behavior and prompt their patients to make healthy behavior changes.
In the survey of primary care physicians, the study found that along with motivating a healthy lifestyle, about 70 percent of physicians also thought testing would help with early detection of adult-onset inherited diseases, and incentivize patients to actively participate in their healthcare. Those numbers were the same both before and after testing.
The study appears to validate work that 23andMe’s Medical Education team has been doing for several years now, offering training and other resources to physicians incorporating direct-to-consumer testing into patient care.
“Much of our medical education efforts are geared towards creating resources and activities so healthcare professionals can effectively answer their patients’ questions about consumer genetics,” said 23andMe’s Anne Greb, MS, CGC, one of 23andMe’s genetic counselors and lead on 23andMe’s Medical Education team. “To build on the results of this Duke study, we are developing an online medical genetics course, to help physicians integrate this kind of information into patient care.”
About 30 percent of those who’ve tested share their information with their healthcare providers, according to some estimates, making this training a vital tool for primary care physicians.
“For many physicians opportunities to engage with and learn about genomic medicine is limited,” said Dr. Kim. “So finding effective strategies like this to experience consumer genetics firsthand can help them to stay current on the evolving genetic testing landscape and prepare for conversations with their patients.”
Find an abstract of the study in the journal Genomic Medicine and Policy.