Business of Health Care: Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

Dec 27, 2019

Genetic tests sold directly to consumers have been growing in popularity. And I’m not just referring to the tests that show your ethnic ancestry, but also those that claim to identify genetic-based health risks. Experts warn that these tests should not be used to inform health decisions without further scrutiny, as the results of these tests can easily be misinterpreted or unreliable.

Most genetic testing is done through healthcare providers such as physicians, nurse practitioners and genetic counselors. These providers determine which test is needed, order the test from a laboratory, collect and send the DNA sample, interpret the test results, and share the results with the patient.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is different. These tests can be bought online or in stores. Customers send the company a DNA sample and receive their results directly via a secure website or mailed report. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing provides access to genetic information without necessarily involving a healthcare provider.

Dozens of companies offer these tests for a variety of purposes. The most popular uncover genetic variations to make predictions about health, provide information about common traits, and–yes–offer clues about a person’s ancestry. While the number of companies providing direct-to-consumer genetic testing is growing, along with the range of health conditions and traits tested for, there is very little regulation of these services.

That means if you do use one of these tests to get genetic information about your health, don’t make any decisions based on the results without talking to a medical professional.