Health Policy

Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing for Health Purposes

September 9, 2015

With the introduction of direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTC GT) services in Canada, Doctors of BC has developed a policy statement. DTC GT refers to testing sold directly to consumers without the involvement of health professionals. After paying a subsidized fee and saliva sample, consumers receive reports of their DNA-based personalized health information including diagnosis of 100 conditions, inherited risk factors, and response to certain medications. There is significant potential for consumers to use this information for health decision-making purposes without consulting their physician.

While Doctors of BC recognizes that its popularity indicates the service is fulfilling a consumer need, the use of DTC GT could affect patient safety and quality care and may potentially affect the overall provision of care in BC.

In the interest of patient safety and upholding quality patient care, Doctors of BC calls for:

  • Federal regulation of marketing and health-related claims in connection with DTC GT, similar to regulation of direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs in Canada.
  • The development of national standards for reliability and validity of DTC GT.
  • Public education initiatives aimed at increasing patient awareness of potential implications of DTC GT for health purposes.

With increased use of DTC GT by the public, physicians (particularly family physicians), will be increasingly presented with DTC GT results. To support physicians, Doctors of BC commits to working with stakeholders to:

  • Develop clinical guidance for physicians working with patients who are interested in or who have obtained DTC GT.
  • Increase education and training on physician responsibility and liabilities regarding medically significant genetic testing.

For more information, including background, analysis and references, please see the full policy statement.