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Blood-Test Labs Bypass Doctors, Spurring Debate

March 12, 2002

In a suburban strip mall midway between downtown Denver and Boulder, there is a place where people can go and order blood tests to detect any number of medical problems, like high cholesterol, diabetes, HIV and prostate and ovarian cancer. It is neither a doctor's office or a traditional laboratory that requires a physician's referral for medical tests. The store, called QuestDirect and owned by Quest Diagnostics, the largest diagnostic laboratory in the United States, is one of a growing number of direct-to-consumer laboratories that are opening up across the country and on the Internet.

"We're potentially entering a retail era where companies are marketing and selling testing services directly to the consumer," said Dr. Bruce A. Friedman, a pathology professor at the University of Michigan Medical School. The trend worries many doctors, who question the medical implications of patients' trying to diagnose their own conditions and interpret their own test results. They also question the legality of these direct-to-consumer laboratories.

Popular tests include screening for cholesterol and other heart disease markers, HIV, Lyme disease, thyroid problems, liver and kidney function, prostate and ovarian cancer, allergies and sexually transmitted diseases. Proponents of self-testing believe it gives patients more control over their health and may help in the early diagnosis of diseases. Some patients, particularly the uninsured, may never seek health care and may have diseases that go undiagnosed, said Dr. Richard Abrams, an internist in Denver. A simple, inexpensive test can catch common diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol and hepatitis C early, he said.

QuestDirect, HealthcheckUSA and other independent laboratories say they encourage customers who have abnormal results to see doctors. "We're very careful to let people know that they should use this information in the context of an overall relationship with their personal physician," said Hughes Bakewell, vice president of consumer health for Quest Diagnostics. "Typically, people who do this on their own are proactive anyway and it's highly likely they'd act on it," Bakewell said. However, no laboratories seem to have done follow-ups on what patients do with the information.


Back to other CDC news for March 12, 2002

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Adapted from:
New York Times
03.12.02; Laurie Tarkan

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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