A new telehealth program is expanding access to expert genetic counseling by making it available remotely, connecting families with trained genetic specialists who can help interpret their results.
Genetic counseling is a growing medical specialty that is becoming integrated into everyday clinical practice, and can have a deeply personal effect on patients and their families. The results of genetic tests can change the course of an Air Force career, how families plan their lives, and can even affect future generations.
Genetic testing encompasses a wide range of health concerns and involve hundreds of different tests. Interpreting genetic test results is challenging for many general providers. Both positive and negative results can have long-term effects on patients and their families. Having genetic experts available to provide pre-test and post-test counseling is critical for patients to make informed decisions.
With tele-genetics, patients are able to access a genetic specialist anywhere in the world and receive the same level of care as a face-to-face appointment. The patient can visit their local military treatment facility for all meetings and any lab tests, and receive specialty care from a trained genetic specialist via a video teleconference.
Access to a genetic specialist is important when considering the impact results would have on an Airman’s readiness. The limited number of military genetic specialists has meant longer wait times or extensive travel to get specialty care. Tele-genetics allows Airmen access to a genetic specialists that keeps Airmen readiness a central focus of the consultation.
Tele-genetics increases access to care without delaying the patient’s diagnosis. This is especially significant for deployed patients.
The first patients at Spangdahlem Air Base began receiving tele-genetic counseling in December 2017. Using a room specifically designed for virtual health appointments, the Airman and his entire family was able to connect with a military geneticist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.
Currently, the tele-genetics program is in its first phase, with two provider sites and three patient sites. The AFMS is working to expand the program to other Air Force MTFs that have limited access to in-person genetic counseling.