Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MS in Human Genetics

First Advisor

Janelle Villiers

Second Advisor

Sarah Kane


Background: There is a shortage of genetic counselors working in direct patient care in the U.S. Virtual Genetic Assistants (VGA’s) can be used to widen accessibility of genetic counseling services by perform various parts of a genetic counseling session and reduce the workload of genetic counselors. There is a lack of understanding about the views and experiences of genetic counselors that have used VGA’s. This study investigates perceived barriers and challenges faced by genetic counselors using VGA’s.

Methods: This study received status of exemption from review by the Sarah Lawrence College Institutional Review Board (IRB). A survey was developed consisting of Likert scale and free-text items. Likert scale questions were analyzed using non-parametric tests. Free-text responses were analyzed using open coding method and Delve software.

Results: Eleven participants completed the survey. The most common concerns cited by participants were 1.) inability to assess patient’s understanding of the information provided by the VGA and 2.) lack of psychosocial counseling/rapport building. Participants cited email access, needing platform update, system error, patient uptake, and a lack of resources as primary barriers or challenges to integrating VGA’s into practice. Participants reported that risk assessment and education for pre-test counseling as potential future uses of VGA’s.

Conclusion: VGA’s have the potential to streamline and improve efficiency of genetic counseling interactions. VGA’s are generally viewed positively by genetic counselors with experience using these technologies. Future studies may incorporate in-depth interviews about the barriers or challenges of integrating VGA’s into their practice. Having a clearer understanding of genetic counselors’ experience with using VGA’s will be critical for improving access to genetic counseling and increasing efficiency of genetic counseling sessions.