Genomics in Patient Care and Workforce Decisions in High-Level Isolation Units: A Survey of Healthcare Workers

Health Secur. 2021 Apr 6. doi: 10.1089/hs.2020.0182. Online ahead of print.


The impact of host genomics on an individual's susceptibility, immune response, and risk of severe outcomes for a given infectious pathogen is increasingly recognized. As we uncover the links between host genomics and infectious disease, a number of ethical, legal, and social issues need to be considered when using that information in clinical practice or workforce decisions. We conducted a survey of the clinical staff at 10 federally funded Regional Ebola and Other Special Pathogen Treatment Centers to understand their views regarding the ethical, legal, and social issues related to host genomics and the administrative and clinical functions of high-level isolation units. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that genomics could provide valuable information to identify patients and employees at higher risk for poor outcomes from highly infectious diseases. However, there was considerable disagreement about whether such data should inform the allocation of scarce resources or determine treatment decisions. While most respondents supported a confidential employer-based genomic testing system to inform individual employees about risk, respondents disagreed about whether such information should be used in staffing models. Respondents who thought genomic information would be valuable for patient treatment were more willing to undergo genetic testing for staffing purposes. Most respondents felt they would benefit from additional training to better interpret results from genetic testing. Although this study was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the responses provide a baseline assessment of provider attitudes that can inform policy during the current pandemic and in future infectious disease outbreaks.

Keywords: Biocontainment; Bioethics; COVID-19; ELSI; Epidemic Management/response; Genomics; Resource allocation.