Just a few years ago, when genetic tests were far more difficult and expensive to complete, physicians and diagnostic laboratories could work together to identify the presence, or likelihood, of developing a particular condition. Now that tests have advanced to the point where they produce far more comprehensive data, patients have the ability to learn much more about their genetic composition than they were able to in the past.
This has created an ethical conundrum for physicians and laboratories that accidentally discover information about patients that could have ramifications on their health. Simply, some patients may not want to know any more information than they had requested when they agreed to a genetic test.
In an analysis of 16 different medical professionals, researchers from three leading medical institutions asked whether these experts would recommend that laboratories pass along findings related to 99 different conditions.
Respondents unanimously supported the disclosure of 21 of the conditions – most of which were pathogenic and required immediate medical attention – while disagreeing on the others. Differences of opinion were present in cases where medical intervention would not have helped a patient, if the patient was a child and if the likelihood of developing a particular condition was not high.
"Whole-genome sequencing [provides] valuable pieces of information, but they are just a piece of the clinical picture," lead research Dr. Howard Jacob told Medical Express. "As a [laboratory] value, this data is important, but we also need to be cautious and judicious when we return information to patients."
Laboratory managers should develop a policy for notifying physicians and patients about the results of genetic tests soon, as the volume of information is expected to expand exponentially in coming years.
This article is brought to you by Slone Partners, a leading laboratory recruitment firm in the emerging sciences of molecular, clinical, and in-vitro diagnostics, anatomic pathology and personalized medicine.
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