Objective: To better define the knowledge and attitudes of practicing physicians about genetics; specifically molecular genetics. Further, to examine differences between four practice specialties and to assess variables that affect both knowledge and attitudes.
Design: A mail-in survey was sent to a random sample of non-geneticist physicians, with a second copy sent to non-responders. Questions included sociodemographic variables, sources of current knowledge and education in genetics, clinical experience with genetic disease, self-confidence in providing genetic counseling, attitudes towards referring patients to a genetic center, awareness of molecular genetic testing and attitudes towards its use in clinical practice and population screening.
Setting: Responses were obtained from over 900 practicing physicians in the Canadian province of Ontario (population 10 million). Genetic services are provided through nine major and several outreach centers. Molecular diagnostic services are provided through six provincially funded laboratories. There are no direct costs to the patient for any genetic service.
Participants: A random sample of family physicians, obstetricians, pediatricians and internists was surveyed from both private and hospital based practices.
Results and conclusion: Responses varied by specialty, years from graduation, gender, and type of practice. Pediatricians and obstetricians were more knowledgeable about genetics, had more interaction with genetic services and were more supportive of their utility. A major proportion of physicians continue to rely upon undergraduate and medical school courses for knowledge, and the specialties showed different preferences for seeking information. A majority of physicians considered their knowledge of genetics to be adequate, but a minority were confident to provide genetic counseling for simple genetic scenarios. Relatively few had actually made use of DNA diagnostic services and there was relatively poor knowledge of what services were available.