Virtual Doctor Visits Gaining Steam in “Geneticist Deserts”

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Scientific American, by Dina Fine Maron

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In Alaska patients are more likely to find an astronaut than a geneticist. William Oefelein, who piloted the space shuttle Discovery, retired there, but the state of more than 700,000 people does not have a single medical geneticist to call its own.
Instead, patients must wait until one flies in from Oregon around 4000 kilometers away. Six times a year a geneticist or two comes to Alaska and visits a few clinics, seeing about eight patients a day, diagnosing genetic causes for developmental delays such as fragile X syndrome or discussing hereditary cancer risk. If a patient cannot squeeze in for an upcoming visit—and many cannot—or the combination of plane and snow machines (the local name for snowmobiles) fails to get a patient to a clinic in time, then he or she may have to wait another six months for an appointment.