Author(s): Fitzpatrick JL
The term "duty to recontact" refers to the possible ethical and/or legal obligation of genetics service providers (GSPs) to recontact former patients about advances in research that might be relevant to them. Although currently this practice is not part of standard care, some argue that such an obligation may be established in the future. Little information is available, however, on the implications of this requirement, from the point of view of GSPs. To explore the opinions of genetics professionals on this issue, we sent a self-administered questionnaire to 1,000 randomly selected U.S. and Canadian members of the American Society of Human Genetics. We received 252 completed questionnaires. The major categories of respondents were physician geneticist (41%), Ph.D. geneticist (30%), and genetic counselor (18%); 72% of the total stated that they see patients. Respondents indicated that responsibility for staying in contact should be shared between health professionals and patients. Respondents were divided about whether recontacting patients should be the standard of care: 46% answered yes, 43% answered no, and 11% did not know. Those answering yes included 44% of physician geneticists, 53% of Ph.D. geneticists, and 31% of genetic counselors; answers were statistically independent of position or country of practice but were dependent on whether the respondent sees patients (43% answered yes) or not (54% answered yes). There also was a lack of consensus about the possible benefits and burdens of recontacting patients and about various alternative methods of informing patients about research advances. Analysis of qualitative data suggested that most respondents consider recontacting patients an ethically desirable, but not feasible, goal. Points to consider in the future development of guidelines for practice are presented.