The purpose of this study was to describe and compare patient preferences for a genetic counselor or an interactive computer program for various components of genetic education and counseling for breast cancer susceptibility. As part of a randomized intervention study on genetics education and counseling for breast cancer risk, 29 women at moderate risk were educated by both a genetic counselor and an interactive computer program. After both educational interventions, participants completed Likert-style and open-ended questionnaires about what they liked most and least about each intervention, and whether they preferred the counselor or computer for a variety of tasks. Participants were largely satisfied with both the computer program and the genetic counselor. A majority preferred the genetic counselor for addressing their concerns, discussing options and alternatives, being sensitive to emotional concerns, helping to make a decision, being a good listener, assuring understanding, helping to make a good choice, helping to understand genes and breast cancer, telling them what they needed to know, being respectful, setting a relaxed tone, and putting them at ease. However, a majority of the women either preferred the computer program or were neutral about allowing patients to learn at their own pace, helping to avoid embarrassment, making good use of time, explaining genes and breast cancer, and treating the patient as an adult. Qualitative analysis of open-ended questions affirmed that patients valued the personal interactions with the counselors, and liked having their specific questions answered. They liked that the computer was self-paced, informative and private, and could be used without causing embarrassment. We concluded that a computer literate, mostly white group of women at moderate risk for inherited susceptibility to breast cancer preferred interacting with a genetic counselor for personal, individualized components of the genetic counseling process, but accepted or preferred a computer program for being self-paced, private, and informative. By incorporating such a computer program into the genetic education process, it is possible that genetic counselors would be able to spend more time performing the personal, individualized components of genetic counseling.
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