Since OpenAI’s launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, there has been an influx of news and speculation on how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact various industries. AI can enable more people to access genetic counseling, a field that is growing rapidly due to the advancements in precision medicine with currently more than 160,000 genetic tests and 30 new tests each day.
Artificial intelligence has the potential to help scale genetic counseling by providing a more efficient and cost-effective way to deliver care. AI can be used to automate many of the tasks involved in genetic counseling, such as providing education and support to patients, interpreting genetic test results, and developing treatment plans. This can free up genetic counselors to focus on the more complex and psychosocial aspects of genetic counseling. While AI-powered tools are still in their early stages of development, they have the potential to revolutionize genetic counseling in a number of ways.
How are AI-powered tools already helping genetic counselors?
A few ways genetic counselors are utilizing AI-powered tools include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Genetic counselors have more time to screen more patients for risk assessment: AI can be used to analyze a patient's personal history, family history, and lifestyle factors to identify those who are at increased risk for genetic diseases, so that they can be offered preventative care. This helps genetic counselors focus their time and attention on the patients who need it most.
- AI can help interpret genetic test results: AI can be used to interpret the results of genetic tests and provide patients with clear, understandable, and up-to-date information about their genetic health. This alleviates the need for genetic counselors to deliver routine negative results and enables them to focus their time with patients that have complex results or have additional questions.
What’s the future of AI-tools in genetic counseling?
- These tools could reduce costs: AI could automate administrative tasks that are currently performed by genetic counselors, such as writing consultation summaries, or interacting with payers to ensure their patients’ tests are covered. This can make genetic counseling more affordable for patients.
- AI could provide personalized educational and psychosocial support: AI could be used to provide patients with educational and psychosocial support, that are tailored to individuals based on their needs. This includes help with coping with a genetic diagnosis or making lifestyle changes to reduce their risk for disease. This could help patients deal with the emotional and practical challenges of living with a genetic condition after genetic counseling sessions. Those in need could also be automatically triaged for a follow-up appointment with a genetic counselor.
- Virtual reality could be utilized to enhance medical education: AI could be used to create virtual reality simulations that allow patients to have a more immersive experience when learning about genetic conditions. This could help patients better understand and make more informed decisions about their health care.
What are the challenges with using AI in genetic counseling?
AI is still a developing technology, and there is a risk that it could make errors. Additionally, AI may not be able to provide the same level of personalized care as a human genetic counselor.
Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of using AI in genetic counseling are significant. AI has the potential to increase access and reduce the cost of care. Over 50% of genetic counselors in a recent survey revealed that the wait time for an appointment for new patients is more than two weeks (NSGC Professional Status Survey 2023). In the same survey, genetic counselors reported on average spending ~50 minutes on preparation and follow up for new patient appointments.
Current wait times for all patients to see a genetic counselor.
What’s the takeaway?
As AI continues to be adopted and further advancements are made, its transformative impact on genetic counseling is poised to revolutionize the field. AI could help drastically reduce the wait times for genetic counseling appointments and time spent on its preparations and follow ups, ensuring that everyone who needs genetic counseling has access to the care they need in a timely manner, ideally within a week. In many cases, genetic counselors have taken the lead in developing these tools and the research evidence to support how they’re impacting care.
Editorial Note: The author utilized Google Bard, an AI software, to create an initial draft of this post - drastically reducing the time needed to write this content.