One concern surrounding increased and widespread genetic testing is that it could lead to increased use of an already strained healthcare system in the US. However, multiplex genetic testing may not lead to increased use of healthcare services, a recent study suggests.
As part of the Multiplex Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-funded, multi-disciplinary research effort to examine how the general public views genetic testing, researchers led by Robert Reid at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle sought to determine whether people would turn to their doctors after receiving genetic test results. "One of the objectives was to see how [participants] would use healthcare services after they received their genetic tests because there has been a concern that patients … might run to their doctors concerned about the thing that they found out from their genetic tests," Reid says. "There's a concern that doctors in this current era don't have the information about what those genetic tests particularly mean in terms of clinical care."
Reid and his colleagues examined how 217 young, healthy volunteers who elected to undergo genetic testing utilized healthcare services as compared to a group who did not undergo testing. The participants were tested for 15 risk variants for a number of common diseases like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and melanoma, among others. Most participants had at least one risk variant. However, the researchers found that those who received genetic testing did not use healthcare services more than their counter-parts, as Reid and his colleagues reported in Genetics in Medicine in May.
While these results indicate that genetic testing may not affect healthcare usage, Reid notes that this study represents a best-case scenario. He and his colleagues were careful to explain to patients what genetic testing is and is not, and what can and cannot be learned from it.
"It might very well be the genes that we selected, and how we delivered the test results, and how we interpreted the meaning of those results to patients," he says, later adding that "if you are to take this type of approach of really explaining the tests and what they mean before patients select, and then after they get the results, I think that lessens the likelihood of a large health system impact."