Genetic Counselor Licensure Bill Signed into Law

Though 23andMe’s ancestry service may be grabbing the most headlines, there are dozens of similar services that require you to submit your genetic material to them in return for a profile of your current and potential future health. Given the exponential growth of these companies, many have been concerned about the risks they pose to the individual consumer. Chief among those concerned are genetic counselors, postgraduate professionals trained in biology and other health-care related fields, experts in the interpretation of genetic data. They can provide health care consumers with information, education, advice, advocacy, and support for medical conditions either entirely or partially determined by genetic factors.

Many genetic counselors and others have raised concerns not just about the potential for unnecessary treatments based on poorly prepared interpretations of a patient’s data, but also about the accuracy and security of the data these companies produce. Health care professionals in many other states have successfully led initiatives to enact legislation better providing for consumer and patient protection around their genetic data. Iowa’s legislature has lagged in this effort to properly define what is meant by “qualified professional.” Anyone could call themselves a genetic counselor and, in the event of malpractice, the patient had no legal recourse for redress.

A three-year journey to join those other states ended late last month when Governor Kim Reynolds signed “Senate File 2228.” Genetic counselors will now be governed by the same legislation that requires almost all other health care providers, board licensure to practice within the state of Iowa. “Licensure of genetic counselors,” says Colleen Campbell, PhD, “will enable Iowans looking for advice and counseling regarding their genetic data to more easily identify professionals with training in genetic counseling.” Dr. Campbell, Clinical Assistant Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine, is a member of the Carver College of Medicine’s Iowa Institute of Human Genetics and a long-time proponent of this legislation. “This has been a long and interesting road,” she says.

The new requirements will also increase the quality of the work genetic counselors produce for Iowans. “Previously, genetic counselors were not able to order genetic tests in Iowa,” Dr. Campbell says, “now as licensed providers we will be able to order tests and consults.” Health care systems should appreciate identifying a new efficiency. And with most neighboring states already operating under similar legislation, Iowa will now be able to more effectively recruit genetic counselors to work in the state by offering similar benefits and safeguards. Hospitals throughout the state will also be able to more easily trust that the counselor they hire has been properly vetted. No word on whether the licensed genetic counselor will be better able to confirm if you are related to Napoleon, though.

Pictured: Dr. Richard Smith, Dr. Christie Thomas, and genetic counselor Maggie Armstrong.