Approaching confidentiality at a familial level in genomic medicine: a focus group study with healthcare professionals

Sandi Dheensa, Angela Fenwick, Anneke Lucassen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVES: Clinical genetics guidelines from 2011 conceptualise genetic information as confidential to families, not individuals. The normative consequence of this is that the family's interest is the primary consideration and genetic information is shared unless there are good reasons not to do so. We investigated healthcare professionals' (HCPs') views about, and reasoning around, individual and familial approaches to confidentiality and how such views influenced their practice.

METHOD: 16 focus groups with 80 HCPs working in/with clinical genetics services were analysed, drawing on grounded theory.

RESULTS: Participants raised seven problems with, and arguments against, going beyond the individual approach to confidentiality. These problems fell into two overlapping categories: 'relationships' and 'structures'. Most participants had never considered ways to-or thought it was impossible to-treat familial genetic information and personal information differently. They worried that putting the familial approach into practice could disrupt family dynamics and erode patient trust in the health service. They also thought they had insufficient resources to share information and feared that sharing might change the standard of care and make them more vulnerable to liability.

CONCLUSIONS: A familial approach to confidentiality has not been accepted or adopted as a standard, but wider research suggests that some of the problems HCPs perceived are surmountable and sharing in the interest of the family can be achieved. However, further research is needed to explore how personal and familial genetic information can be separated in practice. Our findings are relevant to HCPs across health services who are starting to use genome tests as part of their routine investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e012443
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2017


  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Confidentiality/standards
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disclosure/ethics
  • Family
  • Family Relations
  • Focus Groups
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Trust


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