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Genet Med. 2005 Sep;7(7):501-8.

Clinical genetics issues encountered by family physicians.

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Family Medicine Research Division and Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland, OH 44106-5036, USA.



To describe the genetics-related clinical issues encountered by family physicians, and the medical problems they referred to genetics consultants.


Questionnaires were mailed to a nationwide, random sample of 498 practicing family physicians, asking how many times in the past year they discussed genetic information about 19 familial or genetic conditions with patients and what proportion of the families with each genetic condition were referred for genetics consultation. Factor analysis was used to group the conditions.


The response rate was 38% (n = 190). Respondents were similar to non-respondents except that more were women. Most family physicians reported discussing the genetics of common cancers, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease with two or more patients in the past year. Thirteen percent had referred families for genetics assessment of breast-ovarian cancer but only two made genetics referrals for cardiovascular disease or dementia. 25% to 50% of family physicians had addressed genetic issues in at least one family with hemoglobinopathy, a blood clotting disorder, hemochromatosis, mental illness, vision loss or deafness, chromosome abnormality, infertility or pregnancy loss, congenital anomalies, mental retardation, and neurofibromatosis. Most cases were not referred to geneticists. Of respondents, 23% said that genetics consultation is very difficult to obtain or unavailable and 18% listed ethical and social dilemmas related to pursuing genetic diagnosis.


Nationwide, family physicians address a variety of genetics issues with patients, most frequently consulting geneticists for perinatal conditions and familial cancers. Access to genetics consultation is more difficult in rural areas. These data may be used in organizing genetics services and in planning professional education programs for primary care clinicians.

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