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20-05-2012 | Legal medicine | Article

Fears over genetic testing impact on services ‘unfounded’


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MedWire News: Genetic testing does not result in increased or inappropriate use of healthcare services, show study findings.

There have been concerns that increases in the availability and uptake of genetic testing could result in people demanding inappropriate follow-up testing and other medical procedures.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions about how genetic test results can be used to guide people towards making positive lifestyle and health behavior changes," said Colleen McBride (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA) in a press statement.

"This study goes a long way towards bringing data to these debates and shows that people are not likely to make inappropriate demands of health delivery systems if they are properly informed about the limitations of genetic tests."

The team, lead by Robert Reid from the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington, USA, offered 1599 adults with health insurance, aged 25‑40 years, access to a multiplex genetic susceptibility test that produces information on the risk for eight different medical conditions. These included Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and melanoma.

The researchers compared healthcare utilization over a 12-month period between those who completed a baseline survey but did not take up genetic testing (68.7%), those who visited the study website but chose not to be tested (17.8%), and those who took up the testing option (13.6%).

In those who were tested, risks for the eight conditions were increased 1.19- to 2.0-fold, relative to the usual risk seen in the general population.

However, uptake of physician visits, common medical tests, or procedures did not differ significantly among the three groups before or after testing.

"This study supports the supposition that multiplex genetic testing offers can be provided directly to the patients in such a way that use of health services is not inappropriately increased," write Reid et al in Genetics in Medicine.

However, they concede that "the rapid pace of genomic advances and shifts in their readiness for application in clinical practice could lead to genetic test offerings with impact on healthcare use that was not measured in our study."

By Helen Albert

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