Here at PredictER we're very interested in the attitudes of healthcare professionals regarding DNA biobanking. In fact, we recently collaborated in a study of attitudes at a local children's hospital. Thus, I was excited to read the results of similar survey research from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. David A. Leiman, Nancy M. Lorenzi and some other bioinformatics folk in Nashville appear to have been working on this topic for a few years now - beginning with focus groups in 2000 and including a recent international, comparative survey. In "US and Scottish Health Professionals' Attitudes toward DNA Biobanking" [J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2008 May-Jun;15(3):357-62. Epub 2008 Feb 28. | PMID: 18308988], the authors compare the attitudes of healthcare professionals in Nashville with the attitudes of those in Dundee, Scotland. While they expected that the difference between a mostly private (U.S.) and a more socialized (U.K.) healthcare system would impact attitudes, they discovered that the attitudes were not that far apart. Presumably, the authors thought that U.S. health professionals would worry that genetic information might be misused by insurance companies in the private healthcare system and, thus, would be less likely to support biobanking. As it turns out the attitudes of the two survey groups were very similar. Of the fifteen questions in common, significant differences in attitude were found on only three questions. The Dundee professionals were slightly less supportive of creating a DNA biobank and (most importantly) were less comfortable with the idea that they might be asked to consent patients for DNA samples.
In the discussion of the results the authors speculate that time constraints in Scotland might be at the root of this slight difference in professionals' attitudes about "consenting" patients into participating in the biobank:
While many U.S. practices are expected to see patients 12-15 minutes, Scottish doctors are expected to perform the same visit in 7-10 minutes. The additional burden of consenting, or even explaining a biobank project, may be an overwhelming challenge to integrate into the existing workflow.
Those "extra" five minutes of time in which to meet a patient's needs in the U.S., therefore, might account for the greater support ("Strongly Agree" versus "Agree") for DNA biobanking. The authors also mention the difficult nature of obtaining consent for this research – without a complicated: "Traditional consent procedures require researchers to contact participants each time a new investigation is undertaken with the same existing information". Let's hope that the validity of the patient's consent isn't sacrificed to better accommodate the busy schedules of the healthcare professionals. - J.O.