Personalised medicine involves the consideration of health risk factors and genetic information to determine individual risk profiles. This customisation of healthcare uses medical decisions, practices, treatments, and products that are tailor-made to an individual’s requirements, and is based on hereditary profile.

This could result in quicker diagnosis and a more targeted form of treatment for chronic diseases and dread diseases such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

To realise the true benefits of personalised medicine it is necessary to store individual data in a data bank. This would contain information related to a person’s demographics, as well as genetic and medical information. One of the major issues with setting up a data bank of this nature is that it contains extremely confidential information.

Incorrect processes followed may lead to genetic malpractice claims. Some patients may expect their healthcare providers to be highly knowledgeable regarding personalised medicine and genetic testing. In such an instance, a patient may expect to receive in-depth advice and guidance from their healthcare practitioner. There’s also an awareness in general among patients with regard to what their rights are and this then places healthcare practitioners in a more vulnerable position.

When it comes to pregnancy care, new tests are constantly being developed. During pregnancy there are the usual pre-natal tests undertaken to determine if there are any issues with the foetus, genetic abnormalities, and the like. If there is reason for concern, the mother is referred for further advanced diagnostic testing. Genetic malpractice claims brought against gynaecologists, obstetricians and laboratories tend to be for failure to:

  • Recommend personalised counselling and care;
  • Administer or interpret ultrasounds or blood tests correctly and make recommendations; or
  • Properly inform the parents of the test results and implications.

Wrongful birth claims are where the claim is founded upon the basis that ‘but for’ the negligence on the part of the healthcare provider, the parents would have had the option to continue with the pregnancy or abort the foetus. The claim is usually brought by parents who are faced with expenses they would not otherwise have had to incur.

With wrongful life claims on the other hand, the child claims that ‘but for’ the negligence on the part of the healthcare provider the child would not have been born and would not have had to endure an abnormal life. This claim is usually brought by a parent acting in the capacity as natural guardian of the minor child (but could also be brought by the child after they reach adulthood).

As plaintiff’s attorneys look for more innovative ways to sue doctors, we may be looking at an increase in genetic malpractice claims. Some basic steps can be taken to minimise risks, for example:

  • Referring patients to genetic counselling; and
  • Healthcare practitioners keeping good medical records.