BLOG: Genetic counseling helps patients make informed decisions

January 3, 2014

The debate over the most effective methods for genetic testing is an important one.

Last summer, Cigna announced a first-of-its-kind national program that ensures patients will receive board-certified genetic counseling before they are tested for certain hereditary conditions. Their novel solution for the complex issue of genetic testing has generated a lot of discussion in the healthcare community.

It’s an important conversation because genetic tests are tools that can provide patients and their clinicians critical information about health risks. But like any new medical technology, it is susceptible to being misunderstood and misused.

According to experts, it is common for genetic tests to be ordered inappropriately. Unnecessary tests waste healthcare resources and can expose patients to needless anxiety and avoidable procedures. Most importantly, inappropriate testing gives patients a false sense of their own risks and leads to misaligned prevention strategies.

The simple fact is that genetic testing is not appropriate for every patient.

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that genetic testing for hereditary conditions should include a recommendation for genetics consultation provided by specialty trained, qualified genetics professionals.

By ensuring patients undergo genetic counseling with an independent board-certified genetics specialist prior to testing, InformedDNA is helping Cigna customers determine whether genetic testing is appropriate and develop reasonable expectations for what information it can provide.

This approach is not a barrier to genetic testing. Certified counseling is the right approach for ensuring that patients, their families, their caregivers and other clinical care decision makers have the information they need to make informed choices. The goal is to help patients receive the right tests at the right time and understand the results and the options available to protect their health. 

The Affordable Care Act recently designated genetic counseling for women at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer as a preventive service that must be provided by health plans with no out-of-pocket costs to patients. Cigna partnered with InformedDNA to offer genetic counseling by telephone to ensure genetic counseling will be more accessible to patients everywhere. Patients who likely would not receive genetic counseling otherwise now will.

The debate over the most effective methods for genetic testing is an important one. It requires us-both as patients and as providers-to drop our instinctive, reactionary and defensive urges to support mass use of available tests. We must instead support an honest review of relevant, reliable and quality evidence on what best serves patients. 

David Nixon is chief executive officer of InformedDNA.