With the opening of The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, the Laboratory’s mission expanded to include translational research to improve clinical medicine. One of the barriers to realizing this mission is a health professional workforce that is not prepared to use genomic applications in patient care. The Clinical & Continuing Education Program (CCEP) is trying to close that gap by developing education and training programs that help clinicians build skills to improve their genetic risk assessment practice.
While most genetic testing happens in specialty clinics, primary care providers are the front-line clinicians who identify individuals at increased risk for disease. They also refer patients to genetic experts for further evaluation and incorporate family history and genetic test results into personalized management plans for their patients.
The most popular online course is called Collecting Family History with Sufficient Detail. In this course, clinicians learn what kind of family history data is useful for hereditary cancer risk assessment. Participants watch a demonstration video of a physician asking targeted questions to investigate a family history of cancer, then apply these skills using interactive practice cases. Family history collection is widely applicable across provider types and practice settings; this course is a great way to advance competency in this area.
In June, we released an online module that focuses on genetic testing for hereditary breast cancer. It addresses topics such as talking with average risk patients about BRCA1/BRCA2 testing and when to order a multi-gene panel for breast cancer risk.
We are also developing ‘blended learning’ opportunities for clinicians, which involve holding an in-person workshop and then providing online resources to help use the information with their patients. Our first program of this type was in Connecticut last November and we are taking that program on the road to new groups of providers in New England and across the country.
In many areas of medicine, genetic screening is already a routine part of care. Family health history risk assessment has long been recognized as standard of care in preventative medicine, and is a useful tool for identifying risks of common diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in addition to hereditary risks. Newborn screening is a nationwide genetic screening program that identifies babies with genetic diseases who could benefit from early medical intervention. Additionally, screening for conditions such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell disease is also a routine offering in prenatal care.
As we learn more about the clinical validity and utility of using genetic screening with expanded patient populations, we can expect to see it become a more familiar tool in the hands of primary and preventive care providers.