Nurses have a crucial role to play in the future application of genetics in clinical practice, suggests a review of international research.
The report pooled findings from 68 articles assessing progress made in the field of genomic medicine, which deals with testing and counselling for hereditary risk factors of disease – for example the breast cancer genes BRAC1 and 2.
The review warned that overall many healthcare staff lacked knowledge about the benefits of genomic medicine but it highlighted the success of nurse-led services.
One of the studies included in the review assessed the effectiveness of nurse geneticists in the UK. As well as citing its cost-effectiveness compared with other care models, study authors said: ‘Patient satisfaction with the service provided by the nurse genetics specialist was high.’
The authors added that practice nurses may need to become skilled in the area.
‘The most important finding from our review is that the primary care workforce, which will be required to be on the front lines of the integration of genomics into the regular practice of medicine, feels woefully underprepared,’ the authors said.
Margaret James, genetic nurse counsellor at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, said it was an expanding area with around 400 people in the health service doing similar jobs to hers, compared with 120 in 1995.
She warned there was a need for even more counselling services. ‘There are now more genetic conditions that we know about,’ she said.
Journal of the American Medical Association (2008) 299: 1320–1334