The Institutional Benefit of Genetic Counselors
Genetic Testing Virtual Care

The Institutional Benefit of Genetic Counselors

Caitlin Mauer, MA, MS, CGC

The aim of health care providers is to keep patients as healthy as possible.

In recent years, the power of genetic testing has assisted health care providers in further achieving that goal. By identifying patients with a hereditary predisposition to cancer, we can assist patients in obtaining more personalized care, whether that means starting cancer screenings younger, performing screenings more frequently, utilizing more specific imaging technologies, or considering preventative surgeries to reduce the risks of developing cancer. Through these different interventions, we can either detect cancer early when it’s in its most treatable stage or prevent cancer from occurring all together.

Genetic counselors are trained medical professional who specialize in helping patients navigate the genetic testing landscape and the medical recommendations made after receiving the results of a genetic test.

Never heard of a genetic counselor? You’re not alone.

There are a little over 5,000 genetic counselors who are board-certified and practicing in the United States right now. While the field is expanding rapidly as personalized medicine evolves, we are also working to justify why hospitals and doctor’s offices should hire genetic counselors.

Of course, there’s the fact that we are specifically trained experts in genetics and patient navigation, but to a medical institution operating as a business, we unfortunately are not the top money-generating department.

That’s why the field needed a different type of financial assessment to analyze our worth from a different angle. A recent publication out of the UT Southwestern Cancer Genetics clinic in Dallas, Texas has done just that.

The UT Southwestern Cancer Genetics clinic has seen over 30,000 patients in its 13+ years of practice, and in that time has identified thousands of patients with genetic predispositions to cancer.

Given the nationally recognized recommendations for enhanced screening and surgery after the identification of a cancer predisposition mutation, the authors asked: “How much money did these patients bring to our hospital based on our recommendations alone?” Maybe then the profession could demonstrate genetic counselors’ worth in terms of revenue generated from these recommendations.

The authors identified a small subset of patients (425 to be exact) who had undergone genetic counseling and tested positive for a mutation related to either Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes) or Lynch Syndrome (MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, and PMS2 genes), a condition that causes high risks for colon, uterine, and other GI tract cancers. The authors then calculated how much downstream revenue the patients generated for their hospital after following their recommendations.

They found that over 10 years of follow-up services, those 425 patients generated the hospital over $32 million in revenue. Moreover, 176 of those patients never had a cancer diagnosis (demonstrating the recommendations were effective) and they generated almost $8.5 million dollars. Additionally, $6 million was generated by patients whose first visit to the institution was their genetic counseling visit, which meant the genetic counselors acted as a positive marketing tool who encouraged patients to keep their care at the institution.

While it’s already recognized how beneficial genetic counselors are to patients’ care teams, this published data is the first of its kind to promote a financial justification of how genetic counselors fit into an institution’s business plan.

For a field that isn’t recognized as a money-maker from their consultations alone, this study shows there is still a huge financial benefit for health care institutions to have a genetic counselor (or multiple!) on staff.

I’m certain this data will be used by many hospital administrators to implement and expand current oncology genetic counseling practices to best serve patients by expanding access to genetic services.

Healthcare is a business, but by including genetic counselors in the business plan, we can ensure that everyone wins!

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