WSJ on Ordering Your Own Lab Tests

This story from the Wall Street Journal describes the growing market for lab tests available directly to everybody, without a doctor visit. (The companies involved have a doctor on board, as a regulatory formality, but the doctor doesn’t do anything.) I’m interested in hearing from people who are regularly running their own lab tests! I’m going to start doing my own.

Worried About Cholesterol? Order Your Own Tests
By ANNA WILDE MATHEWS

Cheryl Lassiter likes to keep a close eye on her cholesterol levels, but with a high-deductible insurance plan, she doesn’t want to pay the fees for repeated checkups by her doctor. So a few times a year, she orders up a lab test herself, using an online service that charges about $40.

“You cut out the middleman,” says Ms. Lassiter, 56, a writer who lives in Hampton, N.H.

Most people get lab tests after a doctor recommends them during a visit. Now, a small but growing number of consumers are skipping the time and expense of seeing a physician and are ordering up their own tests, with heart-related assays among the most popular. For some, it’s a way to keep track of measures that they want to regularly monitor, such as cholesterol levels or the blood-sugar indicator known as hemoglobin A1C, which is important to people with diabetes. For others, a broad-based panel of tests may provide a quick snapshot of overall health, or a particular test could address worries about the presence of a possible condition such as hepatitis C.

Here are some lab tests that consumers can currently order online without a doctor visit:

• Lipid panel, which includes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, as well as triglycerides
• C-reactive protein, which has been linked to heart-attack risk
• Liver function, looking at measures such as the enzyme alanine aminotransferase, or ALT
• Vitamin D
• Hormone levels, including testosterone and estradiol, a form of estrogen

[…]

Online testing services typically charge $30 to $50 for a full lipid panel, including cholesterol and triglycerides. A hemoglobin A1C test costs about $25 to $40.

Consumers wanting to get their own tests have a number of options. Online services contract with national networks of labs to perform a range of assays. For simple tests, such as cholesterol, there have long been quick-service sites in places such as drugstore clinics and health fairs. Consumers can purchase kits to do some basic tests themselves, including ones for cholesterol from companies including Polymer Technology Systems Inc., which sells a reusable lipid-testing device called CardioChek for $99, and First Check Diagnostics, a unit of Alere Inc., which sells for $13.99 the First Check Cholesterol Home Test, a single use kit that measures only total cholesterol. A few local labs will perform tests directly for consumers, but this is relatively rare, partly because of state restrictions.

LINK: Worried About Cholesterol? Order Your Own Tests

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8 Responses to WSJ on Ordering Your Own Lab Tests

  1. Adam W says:

    I have been interested in this concept but found local labs are very unwilling to provide the end customer with lab tests without doctor authorization. I personally find it annoying that a company won’t perform a blood test if I request it. It isn’t like a prescription drug where there is real possibility for harm; a lab test just gives information and I should be able to use that as I please. If I have need for lab tests in the future I will certainly look more online now that I see that there actually is a market for that.

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  3. Jonathan G says:

    I hope this sort of lab testing becomes more common, especially for tests that should be done regularly, such as Vitamin D levels.

  4. Chris Hall says:

    This is an awesome idea for people with chronic conditions, and I’m wondering about the integration of the lab results into a PHR and EMR.

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  6. As a consultant and advisor to the conventional medical community, it thrills me that more primary care physicians are interested in learning about functional and practical lab testing that offers multi-systemic information (and yes, that can often prevent and more thoroughly treat chronic health concerns).

    While ordering your own tests is awesome, (especially in some states where the test would be otherwise prohibited) it’s still nice to have an advocate to interpret your results. As that person, I push all of the docs I teach to start using these tests on the regular so insurance companies start seeing the influence and professional push toward covering them.

    I tell all of my patients to submit to their insurance companies to see if they’ll cover at least a portion of these self-ordered tests… If you do have a primary, at your next visit, go with a list and make a case for the testing you see fit. More than not, they’ll comply and it might keep your wallet a little fatter.

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