NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Jo Young has been visiting doctors trying to get to the bottom of her mystery ailment, but after two years without a clear diagnosis, she would like to take the reins and avoid costly and inconvenient appointments.
“There are a host of things I believe I need to be tested for that aren't your mainstream blood tests,” says Young, a New York-based comic. “Doctors are so quick to negate symptoms without blood work.”
Young suspects she has a tick-borne illness and thinks she can better trouble-shoot her problem independently. She is in luck, because patients soon will be able to draw on their own suspicions and order blood tests from Labcorp, as it attempts to expand its offerings, according to Bloomberg.
Patients who can’t wait for Labcorp can visit a handful of online companies that already offer these services without a prescription. Direct Laboratory Services, WellnessFX, and Any Lab Test Now, which allow consumers to log onto their websites and order blood tests, and Theranos sells kits in drugstores. Some tests are affordable and will run consumers less than a standard co-pay; DirectLabs, for example, charges $29 for a metabolic panel.
“Going to a doctor many times a year is cost prohibitive, whereas ordering tests and knowing from your doctor what to look for is a great form of cooperative medicine,” says Lisa Laird, a medical biller/coder in Port Aransas, Tex. “I have anemia and hormone issues and don't need to see a doctor all the time, but I am aware that when my levels get to a certain point it is time to go to the doctor to receive treatment.”
As for cost, it is unlikely that insurance will pay for blood tests not ordered through a licensed health practitioner. Not all these services are necessarily a bargain: WellnessFX will run consumers $988 for comprehensive blood work. Regardless, Young, like many patients, is willing to foot the bill. She wants results.
Of course, while being able to order your own blood test gives patients more control, it also can lead to undue anxiety and unnecessary testing and treatments as well as a delay in treatment as a result of false-positive and false-negative results or misinterpretation of results. Furthermore, the lay consumer lacks the true ability to interpret results.
“Sometimes you'll see a medium high white blood cell count -- what are you going to do with that?” says Amy Baxter, a pediatric emergency physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “It doesn't tell you anything, outside of perhaps a complex context.”
“There are only parameters dictating treatment when you couple age and white count,” Baxter adds. “While a few tests are meaningful in isolation [such as] thyroid hormone in conjunction with levels of thyroid stimulating hormone…the real danger of this is that patients will order too little to make a decision, or order too much that won't influence what to do next.”
“I'm all about patients taking control of their treatment,” says Baxter, who made an over-the-counter pain relief system, “but this will likely yield answers to questions no doctor would have needed to ask.”
But money does talk, and it will be up to the consumer to decide, based on the circumstances, whether he wants the independence to act and the freedom from the hassle and expense of in-office appointments.
—Written by S.Z. Berg for MainStreet