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Telephone disclosure of genetic test results can improve access to services

In a recently published paper, Erin Linnenbringer, instructor, department of surgery, Division of Public Health Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed the results of patients receiving test results in person or via telephone.

The paper, “A randomized controlled trial of disclosing genetic risk information for Alzheimer disease via telephone” was published July 20 in the advance online publication of Genetics in Medicine.

While it’s been a longstanding practice to disclose genetic test results in a face-to-face setting, the study states the demand for services is outpacing the capacity of most clinics. Some patients, particularly those in rural areas, find it challenging to meet with service providers in person. In the multi-site trial of Alzheimer disease genetic risk disclosure, asymptomatic adults were randomized to receive test results in person or via telephone.

On average, telephone disclosures occurred 7.4 days sooner than in-person disclosure and disclosure sessions ranged in duration from 6 to 40 minutes for telephone disclosure and 5 to 50 minutes for in-person disclosure. Overall, study participants who received their results over the phone did not fare worse on measures of anxiety, depression, or test-related distress when compared to participants who received their results in person. The study findings were less clear when looking only at participants who were told they have a form of the APOE gene associated with increased risk of Alzheimer disease. “Based on our results, we cannot say whether it is better or worse to learn about an increased genetic risk for Alzheimer disease over the phone rather than in person,” Dr. Linnenbringer said. “But it is encouraging that mean number of anxiety and depression symptoms among individuals who received this type of news over the phone was well below clinically-significant levels.”

The study found there remain important challenges to telephone disclosure of genetic test results, but the results are encouraging given the need for efficient and effective approaches for communicating information to patients.