With the price of genetic testing sloping downwards during recent years, countless private companies and labs have begun offering a slew of tests, leaving researchers to wonder about the consequences – will this bring major new insights or drown practitioners in useless noise?
A new study published in the journal Health Affairs had recently found there to be a total of 75,000 genetic tests currently available on the market, with about 10 new tests coming out every day.
Another study out in the same journal looked at hundreds of primary-care providers in New York City and found that only a third had ever ordered a genetic test or referred a patient for counseling, and only 14 percent said they felt confident in their skills of interpreting the results.
The field of clinical genomics is currently predicted to grow to a $7.7 billion global industry by 2020, yet it remains difficult to say how to best utilise this new tool in the real world.
“If I were a provider trying to figure out what to order, that’s where this is in some way the Wild West, because we have so many tests out there,” said Kathryn Phillips, Professor of Health Economic at the University of California, San Francisco. “Trying to sort out what to use, when and how much to pay for a test is pretty complicated.”
Having looked at the genetic tests ordered by doctors (leaving out those marketed directly to consumers for the time being), the research team found there to be approximately 10,000 unique tests for different genes.
Genetic tests for paediatric and rare diseases are growing fastest, followed by prenatal, cancer, haematology and neurology tests. In many cases, prenatal tests for at-risk women are now covered by private insurance companies.
Providers who took part in the survey were about to enroll patients with African ancestry in a clinical trial to test for versions of genes that greatly increase the risk of kidney failure, thereby making sure the survey tracks the opinions of people actually involved in real-world applications, rather than merely speculative answers.
“Slightly more than 1 in 10 had any confidence in interpreting these genetic test results. Those with more experience of genetic testing, of any kind, did not feel more prepared or more confident”, said study co-author Carol R. Horowitz.
“How are we going to help primary-care providers, who are barraged with all these genetic tests – some of which are very actionable and important, and some of which are not?”