Patient Response to Receiving Genetic Test Results by Phone

Jackie Syrop

Delivering the results of complex genetic tests to at-risk patients over the telephone may be an effective way to reduce burdens and costs for patients with cancer or at risk for cancer and would not cause patients added stress, a study found. Traditionally, genetic testing for cancer predisposition includes in-person pre- and posttest genetic counseling.
The new study, presented at the 2016 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago, showed that delivering results over the phone did not generate more distress, even for those with positive results, according to lead study author Angela R. Bradbury, MD, assistant professor of medicine and medical ethics and health policy in the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
In the study, 984 patients at 5 centers who had received in-person counseling before undergoing genetic testing for cancer-causing mutations were randomly assigned to receive test results in person or over the phone. Test results were delivered over the phone by 22 genetic counselors across the 5 participating sites. Study participants were asked to report feelings of anxiety and depression and knowledge about genetics before and after the test results were delivered.
The study found that participants who received their results over the phone did not have any more anxiety, worry about cancer risk, or depression than those who were given results in person. This held true even among participants whose test results were positive for cancer-causing genetic mutations. Patients who received results over the phone also said they perceived fewer barriers to accessing genetic counseling services than those who got results in person. Receiving results over the phone was associated with greater increases in satisfaction versus getting results in person.
Phone delivery of genetic results actually allowed physicians to provide services to patients at risk for cancer-causing genetic mutations for whom cost and access burdens might otherwise have been prohibitive, said Bradbury. Providing services over the phone and not making patients travel to the doctor’s office or a hospital meant less disruption to patients’ daily routine and maintained the provider-patient relationship while delivering high-quality cancer genetic services, she said.
Small differences were seen in how well patients understood test results when receiving information over the phone compared with in-person, however, and the researchers said further study about this issue was needed to understand the clinical significance of the difference.
This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute. 
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