Third-Party Genetic Interpretation Tools: A Mixed-Methods Study of Consumer Motivation and Behavior

Am J Hum Genet. 2019 Jul 3;105(1):122-131. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2019.05.014. Epub 2019 Jun 13.


In an effort to meet ethical obligations and/or participant expectations, researchers may consider offering "raw" or uninterpreted genetic data for result return. It is therefore important to understand the motivations, behaviors, and perspectives of individuals who might choose to access raw data before such return becomes routine. In the direct-to-consumer (DTC) context, where raw data are often made available to customers, the use of third-party interpretation tools has raised concerns about genotype accuracy, data privacy, reliability of interpretation, and consumption of limited health care resources. However, relatively little is known about why individuals access raw data or what they do with the information received from third-party interpretation. Accordingly, we conducted a survey on raw data access and third-party tool usage among 1,137 DTC customers recruited through social media. Most survey respondents (89%) reported downloading their raw data. Among downloaders, 94% used at least one tool, most commonly Promethease (63%) or GEDmatch (84%). More than half (56%) used both health-related and non-health-related tools and differed significantly from those who used only one tool type in terms of demographics, participation in research, DTC tests ordered, and testing motivations. Exploratory interviews were conducted with 10 respondents and illustrated how social networking, initial lack of interesting findings, and general curiosity contributed to use of multiple tool types. These results suggest that even when initially motivated by ancestry and genealogy, consumers frequently also pursue health information in a largely unregulated and expanding suite of third-party tools, raising both challenges and opportunities for the professional genetics community.

Keywords: direct-to-consumer genomic testing; personal genomic testing; survey; third-party interpretation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Direct-To-Consumer Screening and Testing / ethics*
  • Direct-To-Consumer Screening and Testing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Testing / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*
  • Social Media
  • Software*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult