Telehealth increases patient participation in genetic counseling

More patients preferred using telehealth to undergo genetic counseling than usual methods, according to a study presented at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting.

Genetic testing can help identify individuals who should undergo additional cancer screenings, develop personalized care plans and pinpoint a patient’s risks. However, only 37 percent of people meet with a counselor before testing. In this study, researchers—led by Angela R. Bradbury, MD, an assistant professor of hematology-oncology at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center—evaluated the feasibility in using telehealth to deliver genetic counseling sessions to patients at community-based medical practices.

The study enrolled 115 patients who were candidates for genetic testing and put them into two groups—one received a phone or video counseling session while the other was provided with information on how to get genetic testing. Researchers found that 77 percent of patients in the telehealth group completed counseling while only 36 percent of those in the usual care group completed counseling. Additionally, 55 percent of those in the telehealth group sought out genetic testing while only 17 percent in usual care did so.

"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," Bradbury said. "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."