Recommendations for neonatologists and pediatricians working in first level birthing centers on the first communication of genetic disease and malformation syndrome diagnosis: consensus issued by 6 Italian scientific societies and 4 parents' associations

Ital J Pediatr. 2021 Apr 19;47(1):94. doi: 10.1186/s13052-021-01044-1.


Background: Genetic diseases are chronic conditions with relevant impact on the lives of patients and their families. In USA and Europe it is estimated a prevalence of 60 million affected subjects, 75% of whom are in developmental age. A significant number of newborns are admitted in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) for reasons different from prematurity, although the prevalence of those with genetic diseases is unknown. It is, then, common for the neonatologist to start a diagnostic process on suspicion of a genetic disease or malformation syndrome, or to make and communicate these diagnoses. Many surveys showed that the degree of parental satisfaction with the methods of communication of diagnosis is low. Poor communication may have short and long-term negative effects on health and psychological and social development of the child and his family. We draw up recommendations on this issue, shared by 6 Italian Scientific Societies and 4 Parents' Associations, aimed at making the neonatologist's task easier at the difficult time of communication to parents of a genetic disease/malformation syndrome diagnosis for their child.

Methods: We used the method of the consensus paper. A multidisciplinary panel of experts was first established, based on the clinical and scientific sharing of the thematic area of present recommendations. They were suggested by the Boards of the six Scientific Societies that joined the initiative: Italian Societies of Pediatrics, Neonatology, Human Genetics, Perinatal Medicine, Obstetric and Gynecological Ultrasound and Biophysical Methodologies, and Pediatric Genetic Diseases and Congenital Disabilities. To obtain a deeper and global vision of the communication process, and to reach a better clinical management of patients and their families, representatives of four Parents' Associations were also recruited: Italian Association of Down People, Cornelia de Lange National Volunteer Association, Italian Federation of Rare Diseases, and Williams Syndrome People Association. They worked from September 2019 to November 2020 to achieve a consensus on the recommendations for the communication of a new diagnosis of genetic disease.

Results: The consensus of experts drafted a final document defining the recommendations, for the neonatologist and/or the pediatrician working in a fist level birthing center, on the first communication of genetic disease or malformation syndrome diagnosis. Although there is no universal communication technique to make the informative process effective, we tried to identify a few relevant strategic principles that the neonatologist/pediatrician may use in the relationship with the family. We also summarized basic principles and significant aspects relating to the modalities of interaction with families in a table, in order to create an easy tool for the neonatologist to be applied in the daily care practice. We finally obtained an intersociety document, now published on the websites of the Scientific Societies involved.

Conclusions: The neonatologist/pediatrician is often the first to observe complex syndromic pictures, not always identified before birth, although today more frequently prenatally diagnosed. It is necessary for him to know the aspects of genetic diseases related to communication and bioethics, as well as the biological and clinical ones, which together outline the cornerstones of the multidisciplinary care of these patients. This consensus provide practical recommendations on how to make the first communication of a genetic disease /malformation syndrome diagnosis. The proposed goal is to make easier the informative process, and to implement the best practices in the relationship with the family. A better doctor-patient/family interaction may improve health outcomes of the child and his family, as well as reduce legal disputes with parents and the phenomenon of defensive medicine.

Keywords: Communication of diagnosis; Consensus; Genetic disease; Malformation syndrome; Recommendations.

MeSH terms

  • Birthing Centers*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / diagnosis*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / psychology
  • Congenital Abnormalities / therapy
  • Consensus
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / diagnosis*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / psychology
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / therapy
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Italy
  • Neonatologists*
  • Parents / psychology
  • Pediatricians*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*
  • Societies, Scientific
  • Truth Disclosure