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Doctors making mistakes in genetic counseling, study finds

March 19, 1997
Web posted at: 10:35 p.m. EST (0335 GMT)

BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine on genetic counseling suggests doctors often make mistakes interpreting the results.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions looked at how commercial lab tests for a rare form of colon cancer were evaluated. Fewer than 20 percent of those tested were given genetic counseling or offered informed consent before the test. That kind of advice could affect their plans to have children or their ability to get medical insurance.

Even more troubling, about one-third of the doctors misinterpreted the test results, concluding that patients weren't at risk for colon cancer when they might actually get the disease. Genetic counselor Jill Brensinger one of the researchers, called the results "frightening." A total of 177 patients from 32 states were studied overall.

The research suggests doctors need to do a better job of genetic counseling and educating themselves about the new technology, but an accompanying editorial notes that the researchers themselves may be guilty of an ethical breach since they didn't get consent from the doctors or patients they studied.

But Brensinger said there was no ethical lapse because the Hopkins researchers were simply functioning as consultants in these cases as they normally would. She also says no confidential information was leaked and patients who got the wrong information from their doctor were given the benefit of correct advice from the Hopkins consultant.


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