Direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTC)
Gone are the days when general population was seen by the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry as mere patients. Today, people are transforming from patients to consumers, with many solutions, tests, and medical technologies now available at one’s own home.
At-home genetic testing does not include just prenatal testing, that was once offered exclusively at medical institutes and laboratories. Even genetic screening tests, the pride of contemporary medicine, are becoming more accessible to consumers. Therefore, it is important to become familiar with these new tests, know their advantages, and consider possible downsides and even dilemmas they pose.
No need for genetic counselling
For years, genetic testing was only available at medical institutions (such as hospitals or healthcare facilities) and performed by genetic counselors and healthcare professionals. This reality is now undergoing significant changes. For several years, direct-to-consumer (or DTC) tests are becoming available. These tests allow access to vital genetic data, directly and without the involvement of clinicians.
Healthcare professionals explain that DTC tests provide different types of solutions. First, these tests provide information on matters of genetic kinship, such as paternity testing, or allow gathering genetic data for different purposes that are not directly related to diagnosing one’s medical condition.
In addition, some tests help assess the risk for developing certain diseases. For instance, certain tests determine the risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Responsibility is transferred to the consumer
One of the most important aspects of DTC testing is that it requires no recommendation or referral from clinicians such as doctors, geneticists, or genetic counselors. People, it may seem, now have the freedom of choice. We no longer require the mediation of a doctor, who often has considerations that are not always clear to the public, nor do we have to wait for the services of geneticists, that are not always available.
However, it is important to consider that these tests also pass quite a bit of responsibility to patients. With the public now able to order tests directly, the medical establishment’s responsibility decreases. Freedom and responsibility must go hand in hand, but are people prepared to take such responsibility?
How much does it cost?
Prices of direct-to-consumer tests vary and range from around 100$ to thousands of dollars. These tests are sold at pharmacies or online.
DTC tests raise certain criticism, for instance, regarding violations of personal rights, when tests can be performed even without one’s consent, or on minors.
In addition, doubts are raised about the full understanding of the public about the results of these tests and the decision making they require, without the assistance of a clinician. For example, there have been questions regarding the reliability of tests results compared to the promises made by companies driven by profit.
Types of DTC tests
DTC tests are performed at home. In certain tests, negative or positive results are given directly, at home, and do not require laboratory analysis. Other types of tests require sending the results to a laboratory to receive detailed answers. Results are usually sent via email or regular postal services. Data is transferred to a laboratory for analysis, this mapping may be updated over time due to new discoveries and developments in the field of genetics. In addition, this data may be of use in general research.