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HHS Committee Reviewing Genetic Education Needs

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A Department of Health and Human Services task force is considering ways to help the US health care system prepare for the integration of genetic and genomic information into the public health field.

The Secretary's Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health, and Society is mulling a set of recommendations to give to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that would provide advice on steps that can be taken to help prepare doctors for dealing with new types of data, and new requests from patients about genetic information, such as reports from direct-to-consumer genomics firms.

The SACGHS task force plans to have a set of recommendations ready for public comment soon and expects that if they are accepted they will be forwarded to Sebelius this August.

Education efforts will be central to preparing the health care sector, as well as consumers, for the integration of genomic information, according to a draft report presented at the SACGHS meeting in early February.

"The current public health force is not well-prepared to receive and assimilate genetic and genomic information into public health and there are a number of barriers" to becoming prepared, Barbara Burns-McGrath, chair of the Task Force on Genetics Education and Training, said in a statement to the committee.

McGrath said that the task force, which was formed in 2008 to identify the education and training requirements of point-of-care health professionals, public health providers, and consumers, identified a number of points that need to be addressed, and outlined several recommendations to address them.

The task force found that genetics education for health care professionals is inadequate or ineffective in part because of out-of-date formal training and a lack of understanding of the usefulness of genetics in contemporary medicine. The group also said that consumers and doctors need to understand the concept of multiple risk factors and how they play out in genetic testing data.

The report recommends forming a multidisciplinary, public/private advisory panel that will identify and promote innovative approaches to genetics and genomics education and training in the context of clinical care. That panel would include representatives from HHS agencies and from other federal departments, including the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

It would identify successful guidelines and models for training and education, as well as current funding streams that could be used to support such programs.

The panel also would recommend mechanisms for expanding and enhancing content to prepare health care professionals for personalized genomics, and it would recommend how evolving standards, certification, accreditation, and continuing education activities might be incorporated into genomic content. The panel also would plan to monitor the outcome of its efforts.

The task force also advised that HHS should promote and implement innovative genetic and genomic training models for health care providers who are serving underserved and underrepresented groups and populations, and it should ensure that rural, minority, and disadvantaged communities are considered when these training models are developed.

In addition, the task force recommended a systematic effort that evaluates the job responsibilities of the health care workforce in order to target educational efforts that improve genomic or genetic knowledge. It suggested HHS fund the creation of a web-based information resource center that builds on existing government resources, such as those at the National Institutes of Health, that would specifically provide comprehensive, accessible, and trustworthy genetic information for consumers.

Doctors and other health care workers, as well as consumers, also should be educated about the importance of using family health histories, the task force said. It advised that HHS support using family histories in clinical care through the development of support tools and mechanisms to integrate pedigrees into electronic medical records.

For health providers, HHS should promote identifying the role of family histories, said the task force. For consumers, it should promote research on ways that family history information can be used to make medical decisions, and expand public health awareness programs and patient information on the importance of sharing family history information with primary care providers.

SACGHS will now review the draft recommendations and then will make them available for public comment. After that, Burns-McGrath said, the report will be drafted for another review by SACGHS in June.

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