Athens, OH,
14:00 PM

Genetic testing, counseling now available to Athens area patients

Imagine if you could learn your chances of being diagnosed with cancer in the future? You actually don’t have to imagine that, because it’s a possibility with the OhioHealth Genetic Counseling and Testing program. Patients in central Ohio, and those who travel to Columbus, have had the ability to receive comprehensive and informative cancer risk assessments to help identify families with a hereditary risk for cancer and provide the best ongoing care. Genetic counseling and testing enhances the ability of healthcare providers to identify, manage and provide psychological support to patients.

In the past, if patients outside of central Ohio wanted to take part in this service they would have to travel to Columbus to meet with a genetic counselor. Now, because of virtual healthcare, they don’t have to.

Thanks to a $45,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, OhioHealth is now offering genetic testing and counseling services locally at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital in Athens. The service, designed to help prevent cancer in southeastern Ohio, is conducted remotely via virtual healthcare. Through this initiative, local residents are receiving quality preventive cancer services close to home, instead of making the drive north.

“The program arms people with knowledge about their genetic risk factors,” said Amber Holler, BS, RN, O’Bleness nurse navigator. “This knowledge helps patients and their family members make informed choices about their care.”

With the use of advanced virtual healthcare technologies, patients meet with a genetic counselor based at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, without having to leave Athens. Patients use a private, fully-equipped room, located on the first floor of the hospital, to connect with counselors via videoconference in real-time.

“This is so convenient for patients to be able to receive this service face-to-face through virtual healthcare,” said Michelle Hall, MS, LGC, a genetic counselor at Riverside. “I’m able to interact with them and give them the same personalized information I would give them if they were sitting in my office. It’s much easier on them to be able to stay local and still have their appointment.”

Counselors provide support and care throughout the process and speak with patients about their hereditary cancer risk and options for reducing those risks. They also help patients understand the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing in order to develop a plan of care.

A patient navigator provides assistance throughout the initial counseling appointment and during testing and provides follow up support to the patient, the physician and healthcare team when the test results are available.

The program is being put into place in response to a prevalent need. According to the Ohio Department of Health, cancer is the leading cause of death in Athens County. The county’s cancer rate is over 4% higher than the rest of the state.

“Thanks to funding from Verizon, we can further enhance the health and wellbeing of those we serve in Athens County,” commented Dana L. Casson, CFRE, system vice president and chief development officer for the OhioHealth Foundation. “We are excited Verizon continues to be a valued partner in our mission to improve the health of those we serve.”

The addition of genetic counseling and testing services is one part of a larger effort to grow cancer services at O’Bleness. In April, OhioHealth announced its plans to develop a radiation oncology program at O’Bleness. Renovations that will bring radiation oncology and medical oncology together under one roof will begin this fall. There will also be an expansion of the existing medical oncology program. The facilities will be located on the lower level of the Castrop Center, located at 75 Hospital Drive. The project represents a $5.6 million investment by OhioHealth in quality cancer care for southeast Ohio. The new center is anticipated to open in the fall of 2017.

The Athens MessengerThe Athens News and Becker's Hospital Review recently covered a news conference introducing this service to the community.  You can read their articles by clicking on their logos.