Engage genomics specialists to enrich patient care

As providers face more conditions and treatments with an underlying genomic component it’s difficult to stay abreast of all the rapid advances.

The role of genomics in healthcare delivery is rapidly evolving. It now informs all areas of care within most medical specialties, making genomic testing fairly ubiquitous. Throughout patients’ lives, it can help providers evaluate newborns, investigate reasons for delays in development, and better understand medical concerns across specialities ranging from reproductive health and cancers to cardiac, neurologic and ophthalmologicalconditions.

As providers face more conditions and treatments with an underlying genomic component — and more questions from patients about their individual genetic concerns — it’s difficult to stay abreast of all the rapid advances. However, there is a vital resource that can help streamline it all: genomics specialists, available via telehealth consultation for your patients and to you in caring for them.

For example, suppose a child consistently fails to meet developmental milestones. The child’s pediatrician might consider referring the family to a genomics specialist for further evaluation for an underlying genomic cause that can offer greater insight into optimal care pathways. Likewise, after any diagnosis, particularly with cancers or rare conditions, a genetic counselor can be a part of the care team to ensure access to targeted genomic testing that can inform the treatment plan and provide additional patient support throughout the diagnostic process.

Unlock the benefits of genetic counseling

The genomic testing landscape can be overwhelming, with tens of thousands of tests available across a wide spectrum of medical conditions. Not all tests are created equal, either. Genomics specialists can assist in ensuring the right test from a quality laboratory for each specific patient scenario.

Therefore, strong partnerships between physicians and genomics specialists, such as certified genetic counselors,are necessary to help your patients realize the full benefits of personalized medicine. Board-certified genetic counselors are specifically trained to understand the practical implications of genomic testing, from the critical nuances of test characteristics, the ways testing can inform the care plan, and test limitations. While physicians will gather crucial health history factors, a genetic counselor synthesizes this information along with what is known about family patterns to guidephysicians and their patients toward testing options that can inform more personalized care.

Genetic counselors can offer guidance and education to providers to help direct their patients towards the right test at the right time. This helps avoid orders for expensive tests with limited clinical utility, which can raise patients’ anxieties, out-of-pocket expenses, and prompt additional procedures or assessments that may deliver little impact on overall health. Genetic counselors can similarly support providers in educating patients, too.

Informed patients make informed — and more clinically appropriate — decisions about their care.

Work with one national health plan, for example, found that individuals who underwent genetic counseling were more likely to pursue downstream care in line with best-practice recommendations when compared torates reported in the literature. This research revealed that genetic counseling empowers improved patient decision-making which can prevent unnecessary surgeries or other non-indicated downstream care that comes with inherent risks and costs.

Ask how health plans are incorporating genomics

Interestingly, many health plans are starting to see the value in involving genomics specialists in their policy writing — which offers distinct benefits to patients and healthcare providers.

As medical evidence in genomics changes rapidly, the involvement of genomics specialists in the policy writing process can help ensure patients and their providers have access tohealth plan policies that incorporate current best practices in genomics. Not only does this provide the highest level of evidence-based coverage and up-to-date cited references for clinicians, this type of informed policy can be utilized as a decision-support resource for these specialty areas. In a value-based care system, saving on medically unnecessary expenses while leveraging information provided by necessary genomic tests to improve patient outcomes is a significant win for everyone.

Help establish strong partnerships

Genomics expertise is becoming universally applicable across all medical care and specialties. Furthermore, genomic testing can impact care at any point in a patient’s lifetime. Consequently, it’s essential for providers to know how to access certified genetic counselors in their communities or through telehealth genetic services.

As patients become more informed about their own family histories and genomic testing options, being prepared with a qualified referral can strengthen the provider-patient relationship. It’s one way to build trust and show collaboration toward the patient’s goals and best health outcomes. In addition, care teams may even want to consider consulting with certified genetic counselors for their expertise to build intake forms that effectively incorporate key family and personal history information to effectively screen for genetic conditions and identify patients for referral for personalized counseling and testing.

With telehealth options more widely accepted since the COVID-19 pandemic, providers can naturally expand the services they offer to their patients by tapping into telehealth for genomics. Genomics specialists can help physicians get the information they need to create personalized care plans for their patients like never before.

For most providers, genomics is a field filled with questions and unknowns. However, by integrating genomics specialists and their expertise into the care team, providers can embrace more personalized patient care. It’s time to increase your patients’ access to genomics specialists so that you can harness the power of genetic information to personalize their care.

Kelly Athman, MS, CGC, is Senior Director of Medical Affairs at InformedDNA