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What is direct-to-consumer genetic testing?

Most of the time, genetic testing is done through healthcare providers such as physicians, nurse practitioners, or genetic counselors. Healthcare providers determine which test is needed, order the test from a laboratory, collect  the DNA sample, send the DNA sample to the lab for testing and interpretation, and share the results with the patient. Often, a health insurance company covers part or all of the cost of testing. This type of testing is known as clinical genetic testing.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is different: these genetic tests are marketed directly to customers via television, radio, print advertisements, or the Internet, and the tests can be bought online or in stores. After purchasing a test kit, customers send the company a DNA sample and receive their results directly from a secure website or app or in a written report. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing provides people access to their genetic information without necessarily involving a healthcare provider or health insurance company in the process.

Many companies currently offer direct-to-consumer genetic tests for a variety of purposes. The most popular tests use a limited set of genetic variations to make predictions about a certain aspects of health, provide information about common traits, and offer clues about a person’s ancestry. The number of companies providing direct-to-consumer genetic testing is growing, along with the range of health information provided by these tests. Because there is currently little regulation of direct-to-consumer genetic testing services, it is important to assess the quality of available services before pursuing any testing.

Other names for direct-to-consumer genetic testing include DTC genetic testing, direct-access genetic testing, at-home genetic testing, and home DNA testing. Ancestry testing (also called genealogy testing) is also considered a form of direct-to-consumer genetic testing.