Investigating factors that influence genetic counselors' decisions to refer patients to mental health providers

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Journal of genetic counseling


Genetic counselors (GC) serve patients who are often in distress at the time of their consultation. GC competency includes providing short-term, client-centered counseling, while using community resources, such as mental health providers (MHPs), for psychosocial support. The purpose of this study was to assess the mental health referral practices of GCs; specifically, the rate of referrals, factors influencing a GC's decision to refer, and barriers to referrals. GCs working in direct patient care for at least one year were recruited to take a novel 27 question survey created based on the results of a previous qualitative study. A link to the web-based survey was distributed through the National Society of Genetic Counselors Student Research Program and American Board of Genetic Counselors by email. A total of 144 individuals opened the survey for an estimated response rate of 3%. A majority of respondents (54.3%) reported they assess a patient's need for a mental health referral at least half of the time. The mean number of referrals made in the past 12 months was 5.13. After post-hoc analyses, there were no differences in referral rates between specialties. Common referral indications included patient history of mental illness, distress about having a genetic condition, and limited social support. Common barriers to referral were financial or insurance related, patient receptiveness, and the patient not perceiving a benefit. GCs felt that providing psychosocial support is within their scope of practice, but that MHPs are better equipped to manage long-term needs and those related to a mental health condition. This study provides insight into how GCs decide when they can manage patient distress, circumstances that prompt a referral to MHPs, and barriers. Recognizing common referral indications and barriers may lead to better strategies for connecting patients with such services.

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ePub ahead of print