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IMAGE Are diet changes producing the desired cholesterol level decreases? Has your family’s health history put you at risk for a serious illness? How are your medicines affecting your body?

For years, the answers to these questions depended on a doctor ordering a lab test and explaining the results. But now companies offer consumers the opportunity to test without a prescription. Ordering your own lab tests, also called "direct access testing" can be helpful, but it is important to do it responsibly. The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) recommends that patients:

  • Choose reliable testing sites
  • Consult with their doctor (especially concerning test results)
  • Pursue follow-up treatment if needed

Who Orders Their Own Lab Tests?

Patients may wish to order their own lab tests if they are worried about their health and want to supplement the care they get from their doctor. The ASCP notes that the people most likely to seek direct access testing are those who are in their 60s and 70s, well educated, and who want to be more involved in their healthcare.

Patients might also choose to order their own lab tests if the results might be sensitive, such as for drug tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases. However, since the results of these tests could effect your doctor's treatment choices for you, it is important to share test results with your doctor, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

What Precautions Should I Take?

The ASCP warns that there can be several difficulties associated with ordering your own lab tests, including:

  • Understanding results: When a doctor orders a lab test for your, he is able to go over the results with you and help you understand what they mean for your overall health and any treatments you may need. The ASCP recommends that labs who do direct access testing should provide patients with pre-test information (such as information for fasting or taking certain medicines) as well as clear, easy to understand results.
  • What to do with results: As noted above, it is important for patients who order their own lab tests to share results with their doctors. In addition, it might be more difficult for patients to deal with "bad" test results without a doctor present to counsel them. Finally, your doctor knows your family history and current medical state. Your doctor can use this information to help interpret test results and order additional tests that might clarify the results.

Also, some doctors worry that patients will incur unnecessary costs by testing just for their own peace of mind. You should be aware that your health insurance may not cover the costs of your tests.

If you want to order your own lab tests, be sure you use a reputable lab and be sure to discuss any results with your doctor. Of course, its always a good idea to consult with your doctor first, since your doctor may be able to give you more information about why certain tests are advisable or not.

How Self-testing Works

Consumers request the tests they want online or by phone and receive a form to take to a local lab, where blood is drawn or a urine sample is collected. Labs doing the tests may be the same ones used by hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Reports compare the person’s values to a reference range, which aids in determining whether the results are within normal limits. Consumers also usually receive basic information about the tests and are encouraged to share results with their doctors.

  • Lab Tests Online

    http://www.labtestsonline.org/

  • National Library of Medicine

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

  • Healthy U

    http://www.healthyalberta.com/

  • The American Society for Clinical Pathology policy statement: direct access testing. American Society for Clinical Pathology website. Available at: http://www.ascp.org/pdf/DirectAccessTesting.aspx. Accessed June 18, 2012.

  • Document: consumer access to laboratory testing and information. American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science website. Available at: http://www.ascls.org/?page=Pos%5FPap%5F8. Published July 2004. Accessed June 18, 2012.