Web Sites Offer Access to Lab Tests
Several Web sites - DirectLabs.com, HealthCheckUSA, MedlabUSA.com and MyMedLab.com - are offering consumers the chance to order the same diagnostic tests they might obtain at walk-in laboratories, hospitals and clinics, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Customers do not need a prescription from their physician to obtain the tests; rather, they can visit one of the Web sites, choose a test, enter their ZIP code and receive driving directions to the nearest laboratory. According to the Web sites, an in-house physician approves requests for the tests. Patients pay in advance for the tests and can receive a receipt to submit for reimbursement from an insurance company or a health savings account.
However, most insurance companies will not reimburse patients for tests that were not ordered by a physician, the Journal reports. A blood test from MyMedLab.com costs $45, while a local hospital lab test costs $295.
Customers can get screenings for heart disease, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections and iron levels. Results are reported only to the customer and they are not included in patients' medical records. According to the Journal, typical users of the online services are "health-conscious people who want tests to monitor" various conditions and "uninsured people who don't want to pay for regular doctors' visits."
The sites also target patients concerned about confidentiality. Bruce Friedman, emeritus professor of pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said, "Anything that can get people to a higher level of awareness of their own health status and get them to take some ownership is positive." David Clymer, president of MyMedLab.com, said, "We're not simply 20% cheaper - we're 20% of [hospitals' cost]. That's how consumer-driver health care is supposed to be."
However, some physicians fear that users will "misinterpret or ignore" their test results, the Journal reports. Edward Hill, a family physician and past president of the American Medical Association, asked, "Do [patients] know what to do with the results?" (Timiraos, Wall Street Journal, 6/20).