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How Can a Genetic Counselor Help Me?

Thursday, November 14, 2019 8:12 AM

Kristen Yu

To celebrate Genetic Counselor Awareness Day, we asked NorthShore genetic counselor Kristen Dilzell Yu, MS, LCGC, to give us a better understanding of what she does and how she helps patients.

What is your role as a genetic counselor?

Genetic counselors provide information and support to patients and their families about inherited diseases. This can include information about the risk and impact of disease, inheritance patterns, genetic testing options, and how this knowledge can help individuals make informed choices about their health.

What does your team offer to patients?

NorthShore’s Center for Medical Genetics offers genetic counseling for a variety of indications including cancer, cardiology, and neurology. We analyze a patient’s personal and family history to provide a personalized risk assessment. Based on this information, we can offer patients genetic testing options tailored to their risk factors and personal preferences. We also provide genetic counseling to patients who have already had genetic testing to help them understand the meaning of their results and next steps. Another important part of our service is helping patients navigate the psychosocial impact of genetic diseases and/or test results, such as how they may react to learning genetic risk information, how they can communicate this information to relatives, and how to connect to support resources.

Our clinical team includes genetic counselors and geneticists, and we work closely with other Personalized Medicine clinics to connect our patients to other specialists they may need on their care team.

What does a typical day look like?

On a typical day our clinical team will see several new or follow-up patients for consultation. Some common examples include patients with newly diagnosed breast cancer coming to discuss how genetic testing may impact surgical decisions, or patients with a family history of a disease wanting to better understand their risk to develop it. When not seeing patients, our genetic counselors are calling patients to explain their genetic test results, writing assessments for physicians, or assisting with one of NorthShore’s genetics projects such as the Genomic Health Initiative.

Are patients generally referred to you or do they reach out on their own?

While many of our patients are referred by their physicians, we also see self-referrals.

How did you get interested in this field?

I first learned about genetic counseling from my eighth grade science teacher during a genetics unit, and I was intrigued that the career combined cutting-edge medicine with patient counseling and education. I shadowed several genetic counselors in college, which confirmed my interest in the profession.

Does insurance cover this service?

While every insurance is different, most insurances cover genetics consultations. Many genetic tests are covered by insurance, and the majority of our patients have zero or limited out-of-pocket costs for testing. Our office and the genetics laboratories help patients determine any out-of-pocket costs of testing.

What are the most frequently asked questions from patients?

Patients frequently want to know how genetic test results can be used to prevent diseases or change their management recommendations. Another common question is how family history or genetic test results impact risk for other family members, like children. Some patients have questions about the potential for discrimination related to genetic testing, and we provide education about protections such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

How can patients find out more information about Medical Genetics?

Patients can visit our website for more information.