Author Archives: Kelly Rogel

DTC Companies Under Fire

I was originally going to type a post about genetics within the special education field.  Then I ran across this article, Couple sues over failed Down Syndrome diagnosis and was going to write about wrongful birth lawsuits.

However, there has been so much in the news today about DTC gene tests which I couldn’t ignore.  DTC companies have the potential to make a positive impact on the public by improving accessibility to genetic services.  Unfortunately, those services are currently being questioned.

Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing, “Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Testing and the Consequences to the Public Health).”  For more opening statements and testimonies go here.

What caught my attention was the federal ‘sting’ where undercover investigators either ordered kits or called companies with questions.  Check out the brief video below with snippets of recorded phone conversations between DTC companies and undercover investigators.

The FDA also sent out letters to 14 companies regarding genetic tests they provide.  Click here for a list of those companies and letters.

The U.S. GAO (Government Accountability Office) has released a summary and full report “Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Tests:  Misleading Test Results Are Further Complicated by Deceptive Marketing and Other Questionable Practices.” Go here to read this report.

Thoughts?

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The Future is Here

The endless possibilities of genetics is oftentimes left to our imagination.

The media draws attention to genetic experiments they know will sparkle heated debates.  Don’t forget all the books and movies out there that portray genetics as something that will change the human race and will give us super powers.   There have been so many times where the public is exposed to a small area of genetics and the focus is somewhat on “….look at the cool stuff we can do….”

Anyone remember Dolly?

How about the mouse with a human ear on its back?

Don’t forget the glow-in-the-dark puppy.

The future is here, just in a different way than the media has been portraying over the years.  The future is here in terms of personalized genetics and taking charge of our health.

The public has reacted by fighting limits placed on DTC tests.  The public argue they are capable of interpreting, understanding, and making health decisions based upon their individual genetic information all on their own.   In other words, they are saying they don’t need genetic counselors.

The future is here and it could make or break the genetic counseling field.

NOW is the time for us to find our place.  NOW is the time for us to speak up and gain public recognition.  NOW is the time to show the importance of genetic counselors.  NOW is the time to make “genetic counselor” a household term.

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Social Media as Support Resources

Some of you may remember a post I made a few months ago, Emerging Technology vs Old School. I discussed briefly how we have to find ways to incorporate technology into our profession in positive ways.  I also touched on how we cannot forget that there are people who do not have access to technology and they ARE getting left behind.

We cannot ignore either group.  How can we make sure both groups have access to the same information but in different ways?  This is not the main focus of this post.  I just wanted to remind readers that even though in this post I focus on resources that are more available to people who have access to technology, we must not forget that not everyone has access.

Facebooking, Twittering, and Blogging are what I think of when I think of social media.  Facebook groups can serve as support groups.  Blogs can serve as an excellent way to share thoughts and emotions.  Twitter can help connect people going through similar situations.

Since I have Google alerts set up on my Google readers I oftentimes run across blogs written by people who have experienced genetic counseling or have children with genetic conditions.  I have found that reading strangers’ blog posts about their daily life with a genetic condition and their perspective of genetic counseling has taught me so much more than I could ever learn from reading a textbook.

I get their honest opinion.  I learn how misconceptions develop.  I learn about different attitudes and perspectives.  I learn more about people’s thought processes.  This allows me to see their situation from their point-of-view which in turn helps me as a genetic counselor.  An example of a powerful blog website is, CaringBridge.

CaringBridge is a blog website that “connects family and friends when health matters the most.”

“Human connection. That’s the heart of the CaringBridge experience.”

I have read several CaringBridge blogs written by parents with children who have a genetic condition.  I have also read CaringBridge blogs written by people with genetic conditions.  I have read personal stories about how many families are thankful for CaringBridge blogs.  It allows them to share news with concerned ones without having to worry about making multiple calls.  It allows them to express personal thoughts through writing that they may not normally express which helps with the coping process.  It also allows them to find other people who are going through similar situations as they are.  It makes people feel less lonely during scary times.

If used correctly, social media could be a great support resource for patients.   Social media should NEVER replace actual information or serve as a sole resource.   They should simply serve as support resource in the same sense as recommending books and connecting patients who may be going through similar situations.

Would you (or have you) ever suggest social media as a form of support resource for your patients?   How do you make sure it’s appropriate for your patient?

Would you ever use social media as a teaching tool for yourself or for genetic counselor students?  If so, how do you do this?

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Does History Shape Society’s Attitude Towards Genetics?

I visited D.C. as an undergraduate student and spent a majority of my time wandering around various Smithsonian museums.  I got to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Kermit the frog, and Apollo 11 artifacts.  There was one exhibit that left a lasting impression on me which was the Deadly Medicine:  Creating The Master Race exhibit at the Holocaust museum.

DEADLY MEDICINE: CREATING THE MASTER RACE

From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany carried out a campaign to “cleanse” German society of individuals viewed as biological threats to the nation’s “health.” Enlisting the help of physicians and medically trained geneticists, psychiatrists, and anthropologists, the Nazis developed racial health policies that began with the mass sterilization of
“genetically diseased” persons and ended with the near annihilation of European Jewry.

To relate this history, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has assembled objects, photographs, documents, and historic film footage from European and American collections and presents them in settings evoking medical and scientific environments. Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race provokes reflection on the continuing attraction of biological utopias that promote the possibility of human perfection. From the early twentieth-century international eugenics movements to present-day dreams of eliminating inherited disabilities
through genetic manipulation, the issues remain timely.”  (http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/traveling/details/index.php?type=current&content=deadly_medicine)

The Genetics Revolution seems to focus so much on the future that we forget about the past.  Who are we to say the past does not affect us on some level?

Eugenics is, unfortunately, real.  Is this why so many people are concerned about The Genetics Revolution?

I know eugenics is a very sensitive subject but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.   I think it is important for us to explore the history of genetics and the impact it has had on society.  I don’t know about you, but I have met several people who immediately assume genetic counselors encourage some form of eugenics.

Do you ever feel like in a sense the past is holding us back in terms of the public fully accepting The Genetics Revolution?

The reason why I’m bringing this up is because this exhibit will be visiting my town for a few months.  I hope to do a follow-up post about it from the perspective of a genetic counselor.  I hadn’t even started to apply to genetic counseling programs when I first saw this exhibit.

I also see this as an opportunity to educate the public about misconceptions that might be out there about genetic counseling.  There has been a lot of buzz about this exhibit.  I’m open to any suggestions as to how I can use this exhibit as a platform to educate the public and to increase awareness in genetics.

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Comments?

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Emerging Technology vs Old School

I don’t know about you but I have a love-hate relationship with technology.  It can make things simpler but it can also make things more difficult.  There are days where I miss old school…..you know….regular paper and pens.  There are also days where I am thankful for oodles of information available at a click.

Regardless of if you love or hate technology, we are in the middle of a technology revolution.  We  have to figure out ways to incorporate technology into our profession in positive ways.   We cannot ignore this revolution.

There has already been some resistance to the incorporation of technology within our profession.   There has been a lot of valid concerns about direct-to-consumer services, telephone genetic counseling, and online family history/pedigree programs.

Patient 2.0 is the concept where people meet online to discuss their health, clinical trials, which hospitals to avoid, which doctors to see, and treatments.  While this encourages people to take charge of their health it can be a danger if they believe inaccurate information found online.   Does Patient 2.0 do more harm than help or is it vice versa?

You can even ask healthcare questions on Twitter.  You can easily search for genetics apps on your iPhone/iTouch.  Some of these apps include; MGenetics, PubSearch, NextBio (correlated data from all public gene expression experiments), Odd Diseases: Genetics, and BioGene).  You can even listen to podcasts or genetic lectures at iTunes U.  If used correctly, apps could be developed to exposure middle and high school students to  the field of genetics.  Apps could also be developed as study tools for genetic counselors, however, we should not depend on these apps.

*Start rant:  Most podcasts and lectures are NOT captioned.  If you ever find yourself making a podcast please subtitle, caption, or make a transcript available.  THANK YOU! *End rant* 🙂

There is a new form being formed and it is a group with full access to technology.  What about those who do not have access to technology (e.g. Internet)?

Two concerns I would like to touch on:

1)      Should healthcare information online be regulated?  Should we start exploring ways to teach the public the limits of technology (e.g. don’t believe everything you read online)?

2)      It is easy to get lost in this technology revolution.  There will soon be a forgotten group.  People who do not have access to or do not feel comfortable with technology will be left behind.   How do we make sure this group will always have equal access to genetic services/information?

How can we combine the pros of both technology and old school in order to provide high quality genetic services for EVERYONE?

Thoughts?

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Practicing What We Preach: Genetic Counselors, Disability, and Advocacy

Disclaimer:  I do not consider my deafness a disability, however, society defines it as a disability.   Therefore, I utilize quote marks and refer to it as “disability.”

As genetic counselors we are trained to respect and advocate for patients.  We are also trained to not to make pre-assumptions about their strengths, skills, and weaknesses.  Our training doesn’t always seem to apply outside of the counselor-patient setting.

As a deaf person, I knew it would be a difficult journey when I first applied to genetic counseling programs.  Little did I know how difficult it would be as a deaf person to find my place in this profession.  Genetic counselors learn about many different genetic conditions and work with many people who have various genetic conditions.  Oftentimes these genetic conditions fall under the category that society labels “disabilities.”  Even though I do not consider myself to have a “disability,” other genetic counselors sometimes took a different view.

Here are just a few of the barriers I have faced in this field because of my deafness:

  • I have been rejected from genetic counseling programs solely because I was deaf.
  • When I was invited for interviews for genetic counseling programs, I didn’t always have an interpreter available for the whole interview.
  • I was told by rotation supervisors that deaf people should not be genetic counselors.

The list goes on and on but my personal struggles are not the main focus of this post.  I just used some of my personal experiences to serve as examples.

Fortunately, these attitudes are not universal among all genetic counselors.  I have had some positive experiences during my brief career.  For example, I have never had people advocate for me as much as some groups within this field have.   It wasn’t until I started graduate school that, for the first time in my life, I truly felt like there were people out there who did want to see me succeed and were willing to go out of their way to advocate for me.

The barriers I have faced within this profession has made me question how genetic counselors truly view people with “disabilities.”  It has made me question if genetic counselors feel equal or above their patients who have “disabilities.”  Do genetic counselors serve as advocates because of some sort of deep need to help “poor unfortunates” or do they like being in the helper role and not because they truly want to see their patients be successful?  This is a very difficult question to ask of the profession and of ourselves.

I am playing the role of the devil’s advocate here.  This is not intended to be an attack against the genetic counseling profession.  Rather this post is intended to hopefully encourage genetic counselors to question why they may advocate for a person if they’re a patient but not if they’re not a patient.  What does it tell us about ourselves? Why does it appear that the role of serving as advocates have boundaries?  Where are those boundaries?  Should there even be boundaries?

Does it mean society’s attitude towards people with “disabilities” is so powerful and ingrained in us that we have to be specifically trained how to advocate and be on neutral grounds when counseling patients?   Does it mean our training is not good enough for it to cross over in all other aspects of our profession?

Is it that “disability” seems to go hand in hand with being a patient and it’s hard to separate those two?  Is it time to change our perspectives of people with “disabilities” to more than just patients?

I know it is possible for genetic counselors to pull together and advocate for other people.  My question is why doesn’t this happen on a more consistent basis?

Do genetic counselors need to analyze their perspectives on “disabilities” more thoroughly?  How can this be done?  I would love to see this profession become more welcoming to those with “disabilities” instead of constantly questioning their ability.  Oftentimes what one may see as a “disability” is that person’s strength.

I have seen this profession make attempts to make this field more diverse.  Usually diversity is thought to include people from different socioeconomic, ethnic, and religion background.  Why can’t diversity include people with “disabilities?”

I have learned so much from people within this field who have pulled together to advocate for me when the profession tried to work against me.  I want to make this field more accessible to people with “disabilities.” I want to pay forward what I have been given.

I genuinely want to hear your opinion regarding this topic.  It’s the only way I can start to understand why there are so many barriers within this profession and why we only seem to apply our training in certain settings (e.g. patients vs. professionals).

Changes won’t happen until we understand.  To understand something, we need to explore and question things.

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How To Work With Interpreters

Jessica’s most recent post, Interpretation Declined, struck a chord with me.  She brings up a very good topic and it was refreshing for me to see it from a different perspective. I wanted to expand on this topic some more since I have utilized interpreters as both a genetic counselor and as a patient.

Jessica writes about her experience as a genetic counselor who works with interpreters.  I’m writing from the other side of the fence; the patient’s experience using interpreters.  I hope some of you find this helpful or this serves as a refresher if nothing else.

The top 5 things I wish health care providers knew when working with interpreters.

Note:  I’m deaf myself and have worked with numerous interpreters in various settings.

1)    Make the situation less stressful as possible for everyone. It’s always stressful going to the doctor’s office but it is even more stressful not knowing if a qualified interpreter will be available for an appointment or if a medical provider knows how to use an interpreter.

I, personally, worry more about if an interpreter will be present at my doctor appointments than the actual appointment or not.  I greatly appreciate it when the doctor’s office calls me prior to my appointment to let me know if an interpreter has been scheduled.  This reduces my stress level and shows that the doctor’s office cares about accessibility and I’m a lot more likely to focus on my health itself than communication barriers that may arise.

When possible, genetic counselors should try to contact their patient in advance notifying them that an interpreter will be available even if it’s only an hour prior to the appointment.

This makes a big difference because it shows you respect your patients and shows them you want your patients to have equal access to information.

2)    Remember the interpreter is not there just for the patient, he/she is there for you also. For the longest time I felt like I was a burden whenever I needed an interpreter which in turn made me want to avoid going to the doctor.  Health care providers tended to make me feel like it was my fault I needed an interpreter because I couldn’t understand spoken English.

I read something a couple of years ago that made me realize that an interpreter is there not just for me but for the health care provider also.  I do not speak the same language my health care provider speaks and my health care provider does not speak the same language I do.  Hence we both need an interpreter to understand each other.

A suggestion for genetic counselors would be to remember it is not only the patient who needs an interpreter, YOU need an interpreter too.  Do not make the patient feel like he/she is a burden by making them feel like you had to go out of your way to work with an interpreter.

3)    Preparation. As genetic counselors we know the importance of case preparation prior to an appointment.  Don’t forget to prepare interpreters also.

When possible take 5 minutes prior to an appointment to review the case with the interpreter.  Mention the patient’s name because it is possible the interpreter may already know the patient from outside a medicine setting which could lead to awkward situations for the patient and possibly a bias in the translation.

Give a brief review of the case-particularly genetic terminology.   This gives you the chance to bring up any sensitive issues that an interpreter may say he/she cannot interpret without a bias.  A review of uncommonly used terminology helps ensure information gets translated correctly.

4)    Medical interpreters. My best health care experiences have involved medical interpreters.  I know many of you use telephone interpreters, but try and check as if your scheduled interpreter has any medical training.

If you work with a specific interpreting agency on a daily basis contact the company and ask if you can send some information to them that can be reviewed with interpreters.  I have found as a genetic counselor that it makes a huge difference when I provide an interpreter with a list of commonly used genetic terms with brief definitions.

5)    Know your rights and how to work with an interpreter. If you do not feel comfortable using a specific interpreter, request a different one.   You are entitled to working with a qualified interpreter.  Become familiar with the type of interpreter services your hospital works with.  How are those interpreters hired?  Do they have any medicine background?  What kind of certifications do they have?  Have they been trained to be neutral?  What are their qualifications?

Have high standards for interpreters you work with and develop work relationships with them.  Keep the communication line between you and interpreters open.

Don’t forget, you are speaking to your patient and not the interpreter.  Maintain eye contact with your patient and avoid using phrases such as “tell her,” “what does he think,” etc.

Relax and be comfortable.  🙂

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