Advances in Genetic Counseling – During the COVID-19 Pandemic

2020 will always be remembered as a turning tipping point in the history of healthcare and other industries. We’ve seen many new emerging technologies, trending techniques and innovative solutions to the usual norm of world functioning.

Among all these emerging technologies, one that specifically stood out in genetic counseling and perhaps also other areas of healthcare is “Telehealth”. Here’s highlighted study data by one of the leading genomic technology, services and strategy company : Genome Medical.

Telehealth is an especially good fit for medical specialties where patient information can be collected and reviewed ahead of time and where a physical exam and patient vital signs aren’t absolutely required. In addition to mental health services and medical specialties such as dermatology, genetic services fall squarely into this category.

  • Starting in the second quarter, millions of people participated for the first time in virtual visits with their health care providers. While the impetus was the COVID-19 pandemic, indications are that many patients appreciate the convenience and safety that virtual care offers. A McKinsey survey in May found that 76% of respondents said they were interested in using telehealth for future care.
  • Genome Medical announced recently that  its virtual genetic services are now available in-network to nearly 90 million people through payer contracts across the country. This accelerated availability of on-demand genetic expertise will expand the application of genome-enabled health care and precision medicine to benefit more patients.  

The 90 million covered lives are across multiple payers, including (in part):

  • Cigna (national)
  • United Healthcare (California)
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in eight states (Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington)
  • Kaiser Permanente Northwest
  • Priority Health
  • MultiPlan
  • Three Rivers Health
  • Here’s what Genome Medical had to say on how they achieved desired results:
  • “Genome Medical brings together telemedicine and genomics to tackle the rising need for genetic experts to guide patients and providers in making appropriate decisions around
  • 1) who should get genetic testing,
  • 2) which test is optimal and
  • 3) how clinical care should be changed based on test results,” said Steven B. Bleyl, M.D., Ph.D., chief medical officer of Genome Medical.
  • “Patients can be seen sooner, and through telehealth, we extend the reach of genetic services to rural communities and undeserved areas that have less access to in-person care. Genome Medical is a flexible and cost-effective solution for payers and their members.”

Genome Medical can see 85% of cancer patients more quickly than in a traditional clinic setting. And in areas like pediatric genetics, where wait times of six months or more for an appointment are common, Genome Medical’s growing clinical team can often see patients within a few days.

Telegenetics Advantages

  • Efficiency – Virtual service delivery allows health systems and hospitals to serve more patients more quickly because appointment capacity can be rapidly adjusted to match patient volume.
  • Genome Medical: “Not only are they reaching out to the member within 48 hours, but they’re also seeing the patient within one to two weeks, depending on acuity. It’s not uncommon in many places across the country for a patient to wait six months to get a genetic counseling appointment.”
  • Cost-effectiveness – Telegenetics reduces costs for training, staffing and retaining genetic experts. An outsourced telegenetics model like Genome Medical can provide annual cost savings of $50,000 or more per full patient caseload (similar to what would be handled by an FTE in-house genetic counselor).
  • Convenience – Telegenetics lets individuals access care easily and safely from the comfort of their own homes, and allows health care providers to consult rapidly with genetic experts when needed.

It just makes sense—and never more than right now, when health systems are challenged to re-establish contact with patients who may have put off appointments for genetic care because of pandemic-related safety concerns.

 What does the Genome Medical telehealth delivery look like:

Through its Genome Care DeliveryTM platform, Genome Medical offers comprehensive, end-to-end services to meet the needs of health systems, hospitals, payors, providers and employers nationwide. Our clinical team of genetic specialists includes genetic counselors, medical geneticists, primary care physicians and pharmacists. They have deep expertise across six major clinical areas: cancer, cardiovascular disease, reproductive health, pediatric genetics, pharmacogenomics and proactive health management.

Key elements of their model include:

  • Rapid access – experts typically consult with patients within 24-48 hours—compared with a typical wait time of at least one month, and often even longer, to see a genetic expert in person.  
  • Flexible solutions – They tailor services to the needs of the hospitals, health systems, medical providers and others they serve, whether by providing overflow care, initiating new genetic services or other options. Flexibility is especially important right now, as the health care system navigates the uncertainty, fluctuating patient volumes and other challenges of the pandemic.
  • Education – Provide curated content to both patients and providers to help them understand genetic conditions, testing and potential clinical outcomes. This includes Genome Care Navigator™, an innovative technology that connects patients with an automated, video-based education and informed consent process to boost adoption of recommended genetic testing in reproductive health, cancer and other areas.
  • Online assessment – Offer online tools that help identify individuals at increased risk for a genetic condition.
  • Guidance toward specialty care – Along with recommending appropriate testing, experts can guide patients toward clinically relevant specialty care.
  • Clinical integration – The patient and treating physician receive a personalized clinical action plan, and their experts collaborate to support the appropriate use of genetics and genomics in clinical decision-making.

The above was just one such recent update in the news for Genetic services and we only hear more and more of such services emerging in our industry of patient care.

Genetic services play a critical role in life-saving decisions, such as testing to inform surgical decisions and chemotherapy selection for cancer patients, and determining a diagnosis for patients with rare genetic conditions. It is necessary to continue these services and to move them to virtual care during this pandemic. Not only does this help keep patients safe, it also helps our health systems and hospitals look to move all non-essential services offsite.

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