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Ensuring equitable access to health care is a widely agreed-upon goal in medicine, yet access to care is a multidimensional concept that is difficult to measure. Although frameworks exist to evaluate access to care generally, the concept of “access to genomic medicine” is largely unexplored and a clear framework for studying and addressing major dimensions is lacking.
Comprised of seven clinical genomic research projects, the Clinical Sequencing Evidence-Generating Research consortium (CSER) presented opportunities to examine access to genomic medicine across diverse contexts. CSER emphasized engaging historically underrepresented and/or underserved populations. We used descriptive analysis of CSER participant survey data and qualitative case studies to explore anticipated and encountered access barriers and interventions to address them.
CSER’s enrolled population was largely lower income and racially and ethnically diverse, with many Spanish-preferring individuals. In surveys, less than a fifth (18.7%) of participants reported experiencing barriers to care. However, CSER project case studies revealed a more nuanced picture that highlighted the blurred boundary between access to genomic research and clinical care. Drawing on insights from CSER, we build on an existing framework to characterize the concept and dimensions of access to genomic medicine along with associated measures and improvement strategies.
Our findings support adopting a broad conceptualization of access to care encompassing multiple dimensions, using mixed methods to study access issues, and investing in innovative improvement strategies. This conceptualization may inform clinical translation of other cutting-edge technologies and contribute to the promotion of equitable, effective, and efficient access to genomic medicine.
Implementation of genome-scale sequencing in clinical care has significant challenges: the technology is highly dimensional with many kinds of potential results, results interpretation and delivery require expertise and coordination across multiple medical specialties, clinical utility may be uncertain, and there may be broader familial or societal implications beyond the individual participant. Transdisciplinary consortia and collaborative team science are well poised to address these challenges. However, understanding the complex web of organizational, institutional, physical, environmental, technologic, and other political and societal factors that influence the effectiveness of consortia is understudied. We describe our experience working in the Clinical Sequencing Evidence-Generating Research (CSER) consortium, a multi-institutional translational genomics consortium.
A key aspect of the CSER consortium was the juxtaposition of site-specific measures with the need to identify consensus measures related to clinical utility and to create a core set of harmonized measures. During this harmonization process, we sought to minimize participant burden, accommodate project-specific choices, and use validated measures that allow data sharing.
Identifying platforms to ensure swift communication between teams and management of materials and data were essential to our harmonization efforts. Funding agencies can help consortia by clarifying key study design elements across projects during the proposal preparation phase and by providing a framework for data sharing data across participating projects.
In summary, time and resources must be devoted to developing and implementing collaborative practices as preparatory work at the beginning of project timelines to improve the effectiveness of research consortia.
Anthropological insights into the use of race/ethnicity to explore genetic contributions to disparities in health were developed using in-depth qualitative interviews with editorial staff from nineteen genetics journals, focusing on the methodological and conceptual mechanisms required to make race/ethnicity a genetic variable. As such, these analyses explore how and why race/ethnicity comes to be used in the context of genetic research, set against the background of continuing critiques from anthropology and related human sciences that focus on the social construction, structural correlates and limited genetic validity of racial/ethnic categories. The analyses demonstrate how these critiques have failed to engage geneticists, and how geneticists use a range of essentially cultural devices to protect and separate their use of race/ethnicity as a genetic construct from its use as a societal and social science resource. Given its multidisciplinary, biosocial nature and the cultural gaze of its ethnographic methodologies, anthropology is well placed to explore the cultural separation of science and society, and of natural and social science disciplines. Anthropological insights into the use of race/ethnicity to explore disparities in health suggest that moving beyond genetic explanations of innate difference might benefit from a more even-handed critique of how both the natural and social sciences tend to essentialize selective elements of race/ethnicity. Drawing on the example of HIV/AIDS, this paper demonstrates how public health has been undermined by the use of race/ethnicity as an analytical variable, both as a cipher for innate genetic differences in susceptibility and response to treatment, and in its use to identify ‘core groups’ at greater risk of becoming infected and infecting others. Clearly, a tendency for biological reductionism can place many biomedical issues beyond the scope of public health interventions, while socio-cultural essentialization has tended to stigmatize ‘unhealthy behaviours’ and the communities where these are more prevalent.
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