Is "incidental finding" the best term?: a study of patients' preferences

Genet Med. 2017 Feb;19(2):176-181. doi: 10.1038/gim.2016.96. Epub 2016 Aug 4.


Purpose: There is debate within the genetics community about the optimal term to describe genetic variants unrelated to the test indication but potentially important for health. Given the lack of consensus and the importance of adopting terminology that promotes effective clinical communication, we sought the opinion of clinical genetics patients.

Methods: Surveys and focus groups with two patient populations were conducted. Eighty-eight survey participants were asked to rank four terms according to how well each describes results unrelated to the test indication: incidental findings, secondary findings, additional findings, and ancillary findings. Participants in six focus groups were guided through a free-thought exercise to describe the desired attributes of such a term and then asked to formulate the best term to represent this concept.

Results: The term additional findings had the most first-choice rankings by survey participants, followed by secondary findings, incidental findings, and ancillary findings. Most focus group participants preferred the term additional findings; they also gave reasons why other terms were not optimal.

Conclusion: Additional findings was preferred because it was more neutral and accessible than other terms currently in use. Patient perceptions and comprehension will be framed by the terminology used by healthcare providers. Thus, patient opinions should be considered by medical genetics professionals.Genet Med 19 2, 176-181.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Female
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Terminology as Topic*