The rise of telemedicine has coincided with a relatively new phenomenon – people ordering their own lab tests without going through a doctor. Several services in the US now offer people the chance to test for specific illnesses, regardless of whether that’s recommended by a doctor.
Here is a list of some blood tests and urine studies that can be ordered without a doctor:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC)
- Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP)
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (=BMP plus Liver Function Tests)
- Thyroid Function (TSH with reflex T4)
- STD Screening: Gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV
- Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)
- Testosterone Level
- Cholesterol Panel: LDL, HDL, and triglycerides
- Iron Deficiency Panel: Iron, TIBC, and Ferritin
- H. Pylori Breath Test
- Urine Testing (Urinalysis)
- QuantiFERON Gold TB Test Blood Test
Traditionally, you would need to go to a doctor and discuss your symptoms or concerns. Your doctor would then assess you and decide whether further tests need to be ordered based on the degree of clinical suspicion. With the rise of these ‘DIY diagnostic tests’ people can order a lab test without a doctor’s input.
The Benefits of DIY Lab Tests
These made-to-order lab tests do offer a level of convenience for users because it’s relatively quick and simple. Taking time off work to see a doctor in-person can be difficult, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. With DIY lab tests, you can skip the queue, save time and money for the doctor’s appointment.
Additionally, it provides improved access to care that were limited before to people with a primary care doctor. These DIY tests may help discover some medical conditions that were previously unknown. In this case, you can then be started on the appropriate treatment early, avoiding any delay in care due to lack of access to healthcare.
Others for whom this may be a good option are patients with chronic medical conditions or patients on certain medications that need surveillance lab monitoring. For example, patients on thyroid medications that require regular thyroid level testing, or patients on HIV medications that need to monitor their kidney and/or liver function.
With the ability to order your own tests, patients now have a greater degree of control over their own health, leading to greater patient autonomy. This may result in greater patient participation and a more proactive approach to patients’ individual health, as opposed to medical paternalism.
The Downsides of DIY Lab Tests
The biggest downside to DIY lab tests is that it may lead to over-testing. There is a reason that doctors only order tests when there is a clinical reason to do so: unnecessary tests often generate unwarranted anxiety and may lead to unnecessary procedures that further strains the healthcare system. Also, without a doctor’s input, it would be difficult for the average person to accurately understand their test results – it is not enough for patients to simply google their results to understand what is going on. This can, once again, lead to anxiety.
Some companies exploit people’s fears about their own health to get them to cough up large sums of money to order tests that are unnecessary. In this case, it would actually be more cost-effective to go for a doctor’s appointments and get a qualified doctor’s advice. Although doctors are human beings and do get things wrong, it’s important to maintain a trusting relationship with your doctor. If you’re unsure, you can always get a second opinion from another doctor. In most cases, a doctor’s input is more valuable than “dry numbers” returned from lab results.
DIY diagnostic tests are convenient, can save time and money and give people the ability to have greater control over their own health. The downside is that in some cases it may lead to unnecessary testing. Abnormal test results can be a cause for anxiety and further utilization of the healthcare system if they are not understood in the right context.
Did you know? QuickMD allows you to order your own labs; however, all orders and results are reviewed by licensed physicians. Any abnormal test results are discussed with the patient in-depth to provide expert guidance.