TRAVERSE CITY -- Medical innovations let doctors look into the DNA that make up patients’ genetic codes.
The information from those genetic tests can be helpful, but it’s not easy to understand.
“It’s a whole different language,” said Dr. John Keep, Munson Healthcare’s laboratory medical director. “It’s very much an alphabet soup type of situation. For the lay person who would be reading about it and even a lot of the physicians who read about the testing and order it, it can be challenging to know what to order for the specific questions you’re trying to answer, then it can be difficult to interpret the results.”
Munson partners with the Mayo Clinic to provide genetic tests to show how patients metabolize drugs, look for genetic abnormalities in fetuses and try to detect the chances patients could develop disease. Keep expects genetic testing to become more sophisticated and popular, but doesn’t see experts’ ability to interpret the information keeping pace with the ability to obtain it.
It’s already complicated, even with help from the Mayo Clinic’s genetic experts and Munson’s genetic counselors. One simple blood test can turn into four pages of complicated genetic analysis and lists of drugs, and at the end there’s a disclaimer: rare cases could lead to false negative or positive results.
That lack of understanding can come at a cost. A test might show a patient has a genetic abnormality, which could point to a likelihood the patient might develop a disease. The test is less informative if doctors can’t tell patients what that likelihood is.
“You can generate a lot more anxiety than answers sometimes if you’re aware you have a genetic abnormality but don’t know what its meaning is,” Keep said. “You don’t know how to handle the information, basically.”