By Dania Hietpas, MS, CGC and Joy Redman, MS, CGC

April 23, 2020 Better Health

We are all trying to get used to this new “normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing we can all agree on­—going forward, the healthcare industry will work differently. Although not typically on the “front lines” of critical care, the field of medical genetics still has patients with many important needs that must be met. Here are 5 ways we are seeing the field evolve.

Genetic Counselors evolve to new demands.

  1. Telemedicine

For years, genetic counselors developed services for patients who did not have easy access to an in-person clinic. The recent pandemic and stay-at-home orders have now made those efforts a necessity. Telemedicine has enabled genetic counselors to interact with their patients safely while still providing a high level of personal care. Recent temporary regulatory waivers by the government allow medical genetics providers to have more flexibility in billing for the care they provide via telemedicine.

  1. Working from Home/Remote Roles

Even before the current emergency, in which thousands of us are working from home, the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) Lab and Industry Special Interest Group had begun addressing ways in which genetic counselors could work from home as an acceptable option. The group’s focus is on increasing productivity from home while maintaining and improving both job satisfaction and work/life balance. The next NSGC webinar, available for NSGC members, is on April 30 and titled “Office Not Required: Working Solutions for Remote Genetic Counselors.”

  1. Virtual Academic Conferences

Many recent professional meetings have been canceled due to COVID-19, but science and education continue. The sponsoring organizations have turned to technology and are offering virtual attendance. One example, the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) was scheduled to have their annual meeting in mid-March. All presentations and sessions were recorded, and attendees can view as many sessions as they would like and earn continuing education credits (https://www.acmgmeeting.net). Testing companies are also adapting how they interact with attendees and creating “virtual booths.” For example, visit the Blueprint Genetics booth at https://blueprintgenetics.com/virtual-conference-booth/ to explore what they have to offer.

  1. Remote Rotations and Education

The education of future genetic counselors has had to adapt to social distancing.  Many graduate programs have begun focusing on telemedicine as well as identifying other non-direct ways genetic counselors support patients. This has included expanding relationships with laboratories that perform genetic testing and having students work remotely “alongside” genetic counselors at those companies. Students are engaging in product management activities and practicing genetic counselors are being trained to be “standardized patients” for virtual counseling practice. The NSGC Lab and Industry Special Interest Group has also created a “Remote Rotation Toolkit” with resources available for members. This includes a quick start guide and example syllabus. To ensure students continue to have a high-quality education, ACMG has offered free access to online medical genetics courses (https://www.acmgeducation.net).

  1. Flexible Patient Collection Options: Saliva & Cheek Swabs & VIP hours

Laboratories, including Quest, have also evolved to help patients provide samples for some genetic testing without having to go to their doctor’s office or a Patient Service Center. Many genetic tests can be performed using saliva or cheek swab samples. Genetic counselors can help coordinate genetic testing and determine which sample collection options their patients may have.

For tests that require blood specimens, or other specimen types that need to be collected at a Patient Service Center (PSC), Quest Diagnostics has introduced the “Peace of Mind” program. This program allows individuals 60 years and older, or those with conditions that put them at great risk from COVID-19, to receive VIP access to PSCs during the first hour of each day to minimize any risk. You can locate a center with this option and schedule an appointment at www.QuestDiagnostics.com/Appointment. 

Quest Genomic Services are here for you.

We were so proud to see Quest Diagnostics step up on March 9 as one of the first to lead as one of the first labs to develop and provide testing for COVID-19. We have also seen our leadership rise to the challenge of keeping our laboratories operating while minimizing the risk to all employees.  Our Genomic Services team was fortunate to always have had the ability to work remotely so the difficult “work from home” transition that many people are currently facing was not a hurdle.    Our Genetic Counselors and Genomic Service Specialists continue to provide the expert client care and patient sample support that we are known for. We recognize that healthcare and genetic testing needs do not stop, even for a pandemic.

As always, you may reach us at 1.866.GENE.INFO (1.866.436.3463) or GENEINFO@QuestDiagnostics.com. We look forward to continuing to serve you.