Incidental or secondary findings: an integrative and patient-inclusive approach to the current debate

Eur J Hum Genet. 2018 Oct;26(10):1424-1431. doi: 10.1038/s41431-018-0200-9. Epub 2018 Jul 3.


Incidental or secondary findings (ISFs) in whole exome or whole genome sequencing have been widely debated in recent literature. The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics' recommendations on diagnostic ISFs have strongly catalyzed the discussion, resulting in worldwide reactions and a variety of international guidelines. This article will outline how propositions on levels of terminology, policy, and underlying values are still internationally criticized and adjusted. Unsolved questions regarding ISFs include a suitable terminology, adequate counseling or informed consent procedures, opt-out possibilities, reporting ISFs to (parents of) minors and values regarding professional duty, patient autonomy, and actionability. These questions will be characterized as intrinsically related and reciprocally maintained and hence, symptomatic, single-level reflections will be marked as ineffective. Instead, a level-integrative approach of the debate that explicitly acknowledges this interaction and considers a balance between internationally significant and case-specific solutions, will be advocated. Second, the inclusion of a patient perspective will be strongly encouraged to complement the professional preponderance in the current debate. The examination of lived patient experiences, a qualitative focus on the subjective meaning of ISFs, and a contextualization of meaning processes will be suggested as specific concretizations. This integrative and inclusive approach aims for a more comprehensive understanding of ISFs, a consideration of all relevant stakeholders' perspective and, ultimately, an effective health-care policy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Exome / genetics
  • Genetic Testing / trends*
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Genomics / trends*
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Policy
  • United States
  • Whole Genome Sequencing / trends