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Direct-to-consumer testing.

In the Information Age, allowing the doctor to be the patient's healthcare information gatekeeper is no longer practical or desirable. Today's physicians are spread more thinly among a larger population of patients, and more often than not, they must manage a limited pool of funds available to treat that population. This objective is sometimes at odds with the best interests of the patient. That's where the lab--supplier of 70% of all objective information on health status--can help by allowing patients access to that information.

Critics of marketing tests directly to consumers say it shouldn't be done because patients are incapable of interpreting lab results. I find that argument flawed, and as a patient, I find it condescending.

Physicians have good reason to want to keep control of lab-generated data. First, it shores up their rapidly eroding authority in a managed care environment. Second, it guarantees income generated from patients who must obtain a doctor's order to get a test. Finally, it allows the physicians to avoid dealing with prickly legal issues surrounding patient-ordered test results that could prove physicians' diagnoses wrong.

It may be true that there will be people who are incapable of interpreting a test result accurately without the help of a physician, even when the lab provides information sufficient for this purpose, but this isn't a good enough reason to deny them access. We live in a free society that values individual autonomy, freedom of speech, and access to information. Like it or not, lowly consumers are in charge of their own bodies. It is legal for them to drink, smoke, exercise, reproduce, get tattoos, get something pierced, all without a doctor's supervision. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if the patient can interpret the results because that isn't a good enough reason to withhold them from him or her.

I do not mean to discount the doctor's role; there is no replacement for good healthcare from competent doctors, but both doctors and patients need to admit their limitations, and patients need to have access to lab test results to help them act as the gatekeepers of their own healthcare and health records. The laboratory profession could benefit immensely by allying itself more visibly with the patient in this regard.

This month's cover story, "Testing on demand" by Michael Arnold; John F. Halsey, PhD; Verlin K. Janzen, MD; and Henry Soloway, MD, lays out the pros and cons of offering tests to consumers. I hope it will spur readers to consider this important endeavor.

Darlene Berger

Editor, MLO
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Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Previous Article:Human resources planning: Building a case for cross-training.
Next Article:Online access to test results for doctors and patients.

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