Doctors' knowledge of personalized medicine and genomics research remains poor

Imagine that you just got some bad medical news. But it comes with good news too. You keep up with personalized medicine progress, so you know about a genetic test that was recently made available to help guide your treatment. All that needs to happen is a simple cheek swab or blood draw and some expertise applied by your doctors and you’ll have a better prognosis.

Simple, right? Sadly, there’s more bad news. According to the latest of a series of annual surveys, once you get to your doctor’s office, you face:

  • a 10% chance that your doctor even knows about recent advances in personalized medicine. If you have cancer those odds improve with oncologists, but only to 30%.
  • a 20% chance that your doctor received any training in genomic-based personalized medicine in medical school. The number approaches 50% for new doctors who left school within the past 5 years.
  • a 1 in 2 chance that your doctor feels that he or she can correctly test, understand and interpret the results for your condition, even if there is an established genetic test available. They are also unlikely to know where to send the sample, how to pay for it or how to code the test for insurance reimbursement.
  • a 90% chance that your doctor is worried about handling privacy issues and believes there is potential for insurers, employers and/or government agencies to access your personal genetic data.

The survey of 800 doctors, including primary care physicians, cardiologists and oncologists, is performed by CAHG, a healthcare communications company. Who knows, maybe they’re using the results to help sell personalized medicine education services, but the basic premise is sound and the results have been consistent. Doctors are in fact little better educated than the rest of us about medical genetic and genomic research and how to apply even proven findings to their own practices. 

Most doctors want more information and expertise, but not all. I wrote about one particularly egregious example of doctor obstructionism, and it’s reasonable to conclude that “old guard” doctors—those most likely to be in positions of authority but also least likely to have received any genomic medicine education—will tend not to be among the early adopters. The gap is likely to close, but not nearly as fast as the research progresses.

Meanwhile, back at your doctor’s office, what do you do if your doctor wants to treat you using traditional “one-size-fits-all” methods? Work with your own doctor to learn more? Find one who has better knowledge of personalized medicine and available genetic testing protocols, which may well lead to a doctor only recently graduated from medical school? Go the DTC (direct-to-consumer) route and order your own test? In your opinion, what is the best thing we, as patients, can do to catalyze adoption of personalized medicine and speed better healthcare delivery?