Interpreting Risk in the Age of Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Health Testing


Following the success of genetic ancestry testing, direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic health tests are on a rapid rise. 23andMe, Veritas, and Genos are just three of many companies ushering consumers to a new age of neoliberal healthcare management. These at-home tests promise accurate predictions of health problems, ranging from ‘lifestyle’ concerns such as how much one should drink to predictions of diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The rise of DTC tests brings about a new cultural phenomenon: the expansion of ‘at-risk’ populations. That is, we are constantly at risk of getting sick, and that the body needs to be carefully managed and monitored. The proliferation of DTC genetic health tests fuels this cultural anxiety by transferring a major part of that responsibility from the hands of traditional medical institutions into our own. Now more than ever, we are ‘in charge’ of our own health and all the risks that encompass. In light of this new zeitgeist, this research team seeks to understand the impact of DTC genetic health tests on consumer behaviors and consciousness. First and foremost, how are these consumers making sense of the genome-derived health data?

During their prospecting stage, the team found that many testers use online forums to seek assistance in interpreting their health data. How are healthcare decisions, then, collectively constructed? The team's members want to study both health test results and online forums to understand the processes that lead to the creation of a new type of patient status.