January 11, 2011
Medicine 2.0: Ordering Your Own Medical Tests

A Wall Street Journal article reports on direct-to-consumer medical tests you can order from the web.

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.

Want to try different diets and exercise regimens and monitor your progress in improving your blood cholesterol, lipids, and other indicators? Ordering your own blood tests is one way to do it. This article has useful links to sites for interpreting blood test results such as vitamin D blood tests, liver enzyme tests (drinking too much?), blood lipids, and thyroid-stimulating hormone.

While the online genetic testing services such as 23AndMe get a fair amount of press multiple online general medical testing services offering direct-to-consumer testing are doing business with less notice. Well, my advice: notice them!

The online testing services, which include companies such as Direct Laboratory Services Inc., Health One Inc., PrivateMD Labs LLC and Personalabs LLC, typically don't own labs themselves. Instead, they allow consumers to order tests online, then direct them to a lab that contracts with the firm, such as Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings. The lab draws the patient's blood and performs the actual test. To meet state requirements, the Web firms generally have doctors on staff who sign the orders without seeing the patients.

I like the idea of direct lower cost services. You can opt for a high deductible medical insurance policy for lower cost and direct your own routine care. Or if you live in a country with government-provided but rationed care you can try to work around it by ordering your own tests. You can even buy your own home CardioChek cholesterol meter. Still a long way from Dr. McCoy's medical tricorder. But a step in that direction.

In a previous post about lengthening medical care queues commenter Jake describes medical tests he orders for himself, his costs, and how he uses the results. He calls this practicing Medicine 2.0. Next we need online expert systems to help us sort thru our symptoms and advise us on our health needs. Beware that some government agencies question our ability to handle the truth and get our own testing done.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 11 09:59 PM  Biotech Assay Services

malclave said at January 12, 2011 11:54 AM:

I work at a hospital lab (which also serves as a laboratory for doctor's offices), and a few years ago we started offering various tests that people could order themselves, without going through a doctor's office.

Kevin F. said at January 12, 2011 12:00 PM:

I am a doctor. I see no problem with people getting lab tests done a la carte. Good advice won't be free, but most people can interpret a large number of tests on their own. Yield will be on par with most DIY projects, I'd guess, results depending on one's skill set.

kurt9 said at January 12, 2011 1:27 PM:

It was Republican-sponsored legislation in the early 70's (the same legislation that created the HMO's) that banned direct to consumer medical testing. The AMA is a true medieval-style guild that wants to maintain a complete monopoly on the practice of medicine. This is their reason for opposing direct to consumer medical testing, along with medicine 2.0 (DIY medicine).

Steve S. said at January 12, 2011 7:41 PM:

I donate blood regularly. After every donation the blood center gives you your cholesterol reading. Donate four times in a year and the blood center (in Houston, anyway) will give you a free "wellness test" which includes a complete blood profile. It's all free, and you help save lives.

bmack500 said at January 13, 2011 8:10 AM:

I see the role of government as not to "protect us from ourselves" but perhaps to ensure that the tests are.accurate, and not a scam or fly-by-night outfit; after all, You will use these tests.to protect your health!

John S said at June 7, 2011 10:48 PM:

Physician organizations have successfully lobbied to require Lab Directors or Lab owners to have an MD and even direct to consumer lab testing services have physicians on staff to meet regulatory requirements for ordering tests. All of this is absurd. Expertise in laboratory testing methods is distinct from training as a physician. Someone with a relevant PhD or specialized laboratory training is at least as qualified as a physician to run a diagnostic lab. To be truly direct to consumer there should be no physician involved in ordering as this is meaningless overhead. The role of the physician in all this is to help patients that have difficultly understanding their test results if the patient wishes to seek such help.

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