Direct to Consumer Genetic Testing

PROS & CONS OF Direct-To-Consumers (DTC) GENETIC TESTING

Before discussing on the pros and cons of DTC genetic testing, it is important to understand how DTC genetic testing is different than the current genetic tests approved and available clinically. As per Illinois department of public health, there are more than 1100 genetic tests available through health care provider. Unlike these traditional genetic testing methods, Direct-To-Consumers testing method provides consumers the ability to order genetic tests on their own directly from the DTC companies. The process of submitting samples and getting results are streamlined to meet the needs of the consumers.

Pros:

1.   DTC testing provides an opportunity to increase public awareness to risks pertaining to hereditary conditions, and also provide an option to consider risk-reducing options such as, lifestyle modifications and screening.

2.   DTC certainly increases access to medical testing services, and potentially remove any geographic limitation.

3.  Having an alternative option also has the ability to promote healthy competition with existing health care providers, thus creating an environment for more innovation.

4.   CDC mentions that only 12% of the population is qualified to be categorized as having highest level of health literacy proficiency, which has not changed much over the years. Some DTC stakeholders have also taken a proactive role to promote health literacy amongst masses.

5.    Though DTC testing prices vary, it can cost as low as $99 making it an economical option.

6.    It also provides options for consumers to keep their health information private, and away from insurance companies.


Cons:

1.    The area of genetic analysis is still evolving, and hence it is important to ascertain the credentials of individuals offering these DTC genetic tests.

2.     Direct access to consumers has the potential to result in misinterpretation, confusion and anxiety.

3.  Many of the DTC genetic testing companies are in the early stages of operation, and may not have the best testing procedures, and quality assurance methodologies.

4.    Direct access to health results amongst less health literate masses can result in poor and inappropriate decisions.

5.    Most importantly, genetic analysis may not provide complete solution to health disorders, as other environmental factors are equally likely to impact health.

6.    Government oversight, guidelines and policies for DTC testing are still in the rudimentary stages.

7.    Though consumers might gain on privacy from insurance companies, they might not know how these companies maintain privacy. Moreover, the tests can come from non-CLIA labs, and may not be HIPAA compliant.

Are DTC products dangerous and should consumers have the right to purchase their genetic information?

These two topics are related. The offering of DTC genetic testing as an alternative approach to traditional genetic testing certainly opens up a new avenue to address preventative health care, and to combat increasing health care costs. Moreover, healthy competition in this area can promote further research and innovation.

At the same time, as mentioned above, genetic testing itself does not provide complete solution as environment can play a significant role in common health disorders. Moreover, data extraction and transforming into meaningful information in this area is still evolving. Further, with proficiency in health literacy amongst masses a major concern, giving access to such intricate health results to common masses has the potential to create confusion. For that reason, any such consumer innovation should come with the offering of relevant and easily understandable education. Therefore, the product offering such as this one should also include education, oversight, counseling and involvement of qualified health care professionals in a proactive manner.