Rapid acute care genomics: Challenges and opportunities for genetic counselors

Fiona Lynch, Amy Nisselle, Clara L Gaff, Belinda McClaren
Journal of Genetic Counseling 2020 November 25
Genomic medicine in pediatric acute care is showing great promise, with rapid results from exome and genome sequencing returned within days providing critically important information for treatment and management of seriously ill children. Many have suggested that rapid acute care genomics presents novel genetic counseling issues. This is due to the need for rapid response to referrals, the immense emotional distress that parents are likely to experience when their child is in acute care, and the unfamiliar environment of the acute care setting. To explore the practice of genetic counselors in this setting, we conducted qualitative interviews with 16 genetic counselors (GCs), representing a large proportion of GCs at the frontline of providing genetic counseling in acute care settings in Australia. Interviews revealed themes describing genetic counseling in acute care, including practical challenges of counseling within a rapid turnaround time, similarities with other contexts such as prenatal counseling, and the need for education of other health professionals. Interestingly, GCs did not raise concerns in the interviews for parents' ability to provide informed consent for rapid genomic sequencing. GCs also encountered practical and organizational challenges with counseling in this setting where 24-hr care is provided, at odds with traditional '9 to 5' Genetics service delivery. Working closely in a multidisciplinary team was common and participants believed that GCs are well positioned to take a leading role in the education of other health professionals as rapid acute care genomics becomes routine clinical practice. Despite views that genetic counseling practice in rapid acute care genomics is unique, these exploratory data suggest that GCs are flexible, adaptable, and sufficiently skilled to deliver patient-centered counseling in this setting. Our work indicates GCs are ready and willing to contribute at an early stage of adoption of genomic investigations in acute care.

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