Current medical practice includes the application of genomic sequencing (GS) in clinical and research settings. Despite expanded use of this technology, the process of disclosure of genomic results to patients and research participants has not been thoroughly examined and there are no established best practices.
We conducted semi-structured interviews with 21 genetic and non-genetic clinicians returning results of GS as part of the NIH funded Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research (CSER) Consortium projects. Interviews focused on the logistics of sessions, participant/patient reactions and factors influencing them, how the sessions changed with experience, and resources and training recommended to return genomic results.
The length of preparation and disclosure sessions varied depending on the type and number of results and their implications. Internal and external databases, online resources and result review meetings were used to prepare. Respondents reported that participants' reactions were variable and ranged from enthusiasm and relief to confusion and disappointment. Factors influencing reactions were types of results, expectations and health status. A recurrent challenge was managing inflated expectations about GS. Other challenges included returning multiple, unanticipated and/or uncertain results and navigating a rare diagnosis. Methods to address these challenges included traditional genetic counseling techniques and modifying practice over time in order to provide anticipatory guidance and modulate expectations. Respondents made recommendations to improve access to genomic resources and genetic referrals to prepare future providers as the uptake of GS increases in both genetic and non-genetic settings.
These findings indicate that returning genomic results is similar to return of results in traditional genetic testing but is magnified by the additional complexity and potential uncertainty of the results. Managing patient expectations, initially identified in studies of informed consent, remains an ongoing challenge and highlights the need to address this issue throughout the testing process. The results of this study will help to guide future providers in the disclosure of genomic results and highlight educational needs and resources necessary to prepare providers. Future research on the patient experience, understanding and follow-up of recommendations is needed to more fully understand the disclosure process.