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Attitudes of medical genetics practitioners and psychiatrists toward communicating with patients about genetic risk for psychiatric disorders

Zhou, Yi Zhoua; Wilde, Alexb,e; Meiser, Bettinac; Mitchell, Philip B.b,e,f; Barlow-Stewart, Kristineg,h; Schofield, Peter R.d,f,i

doi: 10.1097/YPG.0000000000000030
Original Articles

Objectives The aim of this study was to examine the self-rated competencies and perceived roles of medical geneticists, genetic counselors, and psychiatrists in the communication of genetic risk for psychiatric disorders to patients and families at an increased risk for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, and their perspectives on training needs in this field.

Materials and methods Clinically active members of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia (HGSA) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) were invited to complete the online survey. A total of 157 responses were included in data analysis: 17 medical geneticists, 36 genetics counselors, and 104 psychiatrists.

Results In all, 34.4% of the respondents disagreed that their professional training had prepared them to discuss genetic information about psychiatric illnesses with patients. Medical geneticists perceived significantly higher levels of self-rated competency to discuss with patients and families genetic information on psychiatric disorders compared with genetic counselors and psychiatrists (t=−0.61, P=0.001; β=0.33, 95% confidence interval 0.16–0.49, P<0.001).

Conclusion Findings suggest deficiencies in education and training programs on how to best communicate psychiatric genetic risk information to patients, suggesting that specialist programs are needed to better support health professionals. As self-rated competencies differed among the professional groups, training programs need to be tailored to participants’ professional backgrounds.

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aSchool of Medicine

bSchool of Psychiatry

cPrince of Wales Clinical School

dSchool of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales

eBlack Dog Institute

fBrain Sciences UNSW, Sydney

gCentre for Genetics Education, Royal North Shore Hospital

hSydney Medical School, University of Sydney

iNeuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Correspondence to Alex Wilde, PhD, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Black Dog Institute Building, Hospital Road, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, Sydney, NSW 2031, Australia Tel: +61 2 9382 9249; fax: +61 2 9382 8151; e-mail:

Received February 26, 2013

Accepted January 28, 2014

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins