Health-care professionals' responsibility to patients' relatives in genetic medicine: a systematic review and synthesis of empirical research.
Dheensa S., Fenwick A., Shkedi-Rafid S., Crawford G., Lucassen A.
PurposeThe extent of the responsibility of health-care professionals (HCPs) to ensure that patients' relatives are told of their risk is unclear. Current international guidelines take confidentiality to the individual patient as the default position, but some suggest that disclosure could be default and genetic information could be conceptualized as familial.MethodsOur systematic review and synthesis of 17 studies explored the attitudes of HCPs, patients, and the public regarding the extent of HCPs' responsibility to relatives with respect to disclosure.ResultsHealth-care professionals generally felt a responsibility to patients' relatives but perceived a variety of reasons why it would be difficult to act on this responsibility. Public/patient views were more wide-ranging. Participants identified several competing and overlapping arguments for and against HCP disclosure: guidelines do not permit/mandate it, privacy, medical benefit, impact on family dynamics, quality of communication, and respecting autonomy.ConclusionWe argue that HCPs can sometimes share genetic information without breaching confidentiality and that they could factor into their considerations the potential harm to family dynamics of nondisclosure. However, we need more nuanced research about their responsibilities to relatives, particularly as genomic tests are used more frequently in clinical practice.Genet Med 18 4, 290-301.