US Air Force launches genetic counseling telemedicine pilot

The U.S. Air Force rolled out a remote genetic counseling services program in December to airmen stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.

The first airman to participate in the pilot program visited a room designated for remote care appointments at Spangdahlem Air Base, an air base maintained by the 52nd Fighter Wing of the U.S. Air Force, to connect with a military geneticist from Bethesda, Md.-based Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Under the pilot program, an on-site provider at a military treatment facility will help a patient collect a blood, saliva or amniotic fluid sample for lab testing, the results of which are delivered to an off-site genetic specialist. The remote specialist will consult with the patient via video conference to interpret the results and provide post-test counseling.

The process eliminates the need for patients' aeromedical evacuation to the U.S. to visit an in-person genetic counselor.

The first phase of the pilot program comprises two provider sites and three patient sites. The U.S. Air Force Medical Service plans to expand the program to additional U.S. Air Force military treatment facilities with limited access to in-person genetic counseling services.

"Many civilian providers are not attuned to the nuances of being in the military," said Mauricio De Castro, MD, a medical geneticist with the Air Force Medical Genetics Center of Excellence at Biloxi, Miss.-based Keesler Air Force Base. "For instance, we can look at how the results of a genetic test affect an airman's fitness for duty or long-term career."

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