WSJ on Ordering Your Own Lab Tests
January 11, 2011
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.