Precision Medicine: The Present Fallibility of Genetic Testing

The Precision Medicine initiative, as discussed in a previous blog post, is centered on DNA testing and genetic medicine, something that has not yet proved to deliver perfectly accurate customized care.

DNA testing can and has been very useful in finding and treating various conditions including cancer, birth defects, diseases and intellectual development delays. However, genetic tests have been known to be inaccurate. Misinterpretations of DNA can lead doctors to believe patients have certain diseases or symptoms that a patient actually does not have, thus perhaps leading to incorrect treatment for the said patient. These mistakes can cause great harm to patients because doctors may prescribe the wrong medicine or surgical procedures to patients due to a simple misreading of genetic data.

Map of the United States displaying total number of geneticists by state in 2007.

As of 2007, there are only 509 certified geneticists in the United States. As of 2014, only 50% of Geneticist positions have been filled.

 

At present, there is a lack of training for general-care physicians when it comes to genetics and DNA. DNA testing and the study of the human genome sequence has evolved in the past 20 years and doctors who were in school then are likely to have to relearn this new information. Most doctors reach out to geneticists to make sense of genetic tests or to explain them correctly to their patients; however, there are simply not enough trained medical geneticists available in the current market. According to one source, there are “nearly as many professional astronauts in the world as there are board certified geneticists that see patients.” A study conducted in 2004 by the Association of American Medical Colleges, 58% of clinical genetics GME slots are unfilled and 17 states currently have shortages and the 5 to 15 year forecast indicates further shortages. There are, nevertheless, a number of initiatives under way to expand general-care physicians’ knowledge and ability to explain genetics and DNA. Genetics are simply a new tool that doctors have at their disposal to help diagnose and determine how to cure patients.

As genetics become increasingly integrated into medical care, doctors will gain a more sophisticated and developed understanding of genetics, but it will take some time. Until then, doctors will continue to study and expand their knowledge in order to better be able to serve and treat their patients.

 

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