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Telegenetics: Helping People Near and Far Gain Access to Genetic Counseling

Patient and doctor teleconferencing

Medical technology saves lives every single day. This is true whether that technology’s purpose is to allow people to communicate with one another across long distances, or to analyze a person’s genetic makeup to determine their risk of developing cancer.

In the case of Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center Telegenetics Program—which offers remote cancer genetic services for patients at-risk for cancer—both of these technological tools come into play.

We spoke with Jan Jaeger, PhD, Director of the Telegenetics Program, and Elisabeth Wood, MS, Licensed Certified Genetic Counselor (LCGC), to learn how the program works—and why access to genetic counseling matters.

How does genetic counseling help patients manage their medical care?

Elisabeth: There are a large number of genes associated with cancer. When an individual has a genetic change related to cancer, it doesn’t mean he or she automatically has a cancer diagnosis—but it does mean that his or her lifetime risk is increased compared to the general population.

This information is useful because if you do have an increased risk for, say, breast cancer, based on one of your genes, then there might be clinical recommendations for increased screening, as well as preventative options that you can learn more about.

Genetic counseling can assist you in making informed medical decisions with your physician.

How can the Telegenetics Program help patients gain access to genetic counseling when they don’t live nearby?

Dr. Jaeger: Patients who come to established medical centers like Penn Medicine have the option to see a genetic counselor, so these kinds of discussions can take place.

However, in small or rural communities, genetic counselors may not be available. So, the patients might not have the benefit of receiving genetic counseling services. Our mission is to address the needs of this patient population by giving them access to genetic counselors.

How does Penn Medicine reach out to patients across the country?

Dr. Jaeger:Our partnerships with community hospitals and clinics give local residents access to genetic counseling resources at Penn Medicine. We're available to serve patients via videoconference or telephone, facilitating excellent care and establishing relationships within the community.

What happens when a patient uses the Telegenetics Program?

Elisabeth: First, the doctor at the community hospital refers the patient to talk to one of our genetic counselors through the program.

Then, a nurse or clinical care coordinator sets up a convenient time that works for both the patient and the genetic counselor.

We talk to the patient by video conference or phone, discussing their risk for cancer based on family history and other factors. If a patient elects to have genetic testing, that can be done using a small sample of blood or saliva.

Dr. Jaeger:We’ve learned that patients are satisfied with telegenetic services provided through our program. They’re happy with the care they receive and the convenience of staying close to home.

Elisabeth: Genetic counselors play a vital role in helping individuals to feel confident and comfortable when making their own personal decisions about genetic testing, as well as being there to explain the genetic testing results. They're an important source of support and information for the patient and their family.

Learn more about the Abramson Cancer Center Telegenetics Program online or by calling 215-614-0262.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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