What is a genetic counselor?
Genetic counselors are health care professionals with specialized graduate training in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors usually work as members of a healthcare team, providing information and support to families who have members with birth defects or genetic disorders and to families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions.
Are there different kinds of genetic counselors?
Yes. Genetic counselors work in a wide variety of settings and may provide different services. Depending on your questions or the reason you are referred for genetic counseling, you may work with a genetic counselor with specific areas of expertise. Most genetic counselors work in a clinic or hospital setting and specialize in general genetics, prenatal care and family planning, pediatrics, oncology, cardiology, neurology, and many other areas of specialized medical care.
Not all genetic counselors work directly with patients. Some genetic counselors work in related areas such as laboratories, research, education, public health settings, and corporate environments. While most genetic counseling is provided in-person, access to genetic counselors is expanding, and many now provide consultation services by telephone, videoconferencing, and the internet, or offer education and support in group settings.
How can a genetic counselor help me?
Genetic counselors can help you to make informed, personalized decisions about your genetic health. As genetics professionals, they can help identify your potential genetic health risks, give you information about genetic conditions and inheritance patterns, discuss genetic testing options, help you understand your genetic results, and provide support throughout the process.
Here are some common reasons people speak with genetic counselors:
- I have a family history of a certain health condition, is there a genetic test I can take to find out if I’m at risk
- My partner and I are planning a pregnancy, what types of testing are available to us?
- I have a known genetic mutation in my family, what can I do?
- I have a medical condition and want to learn whether I could pass it to my children.
- Can you help me share my genetic information with my relatives, or with my doctors?
- Genetic counselors can also work with your physicians or other healthcare providers to make sure your genetic information is effectively considered in your overall health care.
What happens when I see a genetic counselor?
Most genetic counseling is provided in-person to an individual, couple, or family, typically in a clinic or doctor’s office. Depending on the specific reason for your consultation, the genetic counselor may:
- Review your personal and family medical history
- Identify possible genetic risks and discuss inheritance patterns
- Review appropriate testing options
- Discuss prevention strategies, screening tools, disease management
- Provide genetics-related information and reliable resources
- Provide supportive counseling that may help you with topics that arose during the consultation.
In some cases you may speak with a genetic counselor once. In other cases you may work your counselor over time. As questions about your genetic health arise, genetic counselors are available to help.
How can I get the most out of a genetic counseling appointment?
A little preparation before your appointment can help you get the most out of your genetic counseling visit.
- Ask your relatives about medical conditions in the family
- Gather any medical records related to your concerns
- Bring a list of written questions to your appointment
You may not be able to get all the details, but the more information you have, the more your genetic counselor can help.
Is my genetic information protected?
Yes. Many people are not aware that both federal and state laws are in place to protect personal genetic information. Although these laws do not address genetic privacy across the board, they provide many important protections.
Is genetic counseling covered by health insurance?
Genetic counseling is typically covered by medical insurance. However, it is important to check with your insurance company to find out about your specific coverage.
Is genetic testing covered by health insurance?
In many cases, health insurance will cover the costs of genetic testing when it is recommended by a physician or other health care provider. However, insurance companies have different policies about which tests are covered. Some insurers have specific requirements about what reasons for testing, or indications, qualify for coverage. It is important to check with your insurance company about coverage for a particular genetic test.
How do I find a genetic counselor in my area?
Often the best way to find a genetic counselor is by talking with your doctor. You can also find genetic counselors in your area by going to the National Society of Genetic Counselors website (www.nsgc.org) and using the “Find a Genetic Counselor” tool. You can easily search for a genetic counselor by location, area of specialty, or even by hospital.