Let’s face it. A trip to the drugstore is a whole lot easier than a costly and time-consuming trip to the doctor’s office. No time wasted waiting for the physician; no embarrassing questions to answer; and no sticker shock when the bill comes. Just head for the section of your pharmacy with all of the gadgets and home test kits and you are ready to “play doctor.”
With skyrocketing medical costs and increased concerns about privacy, more and more Americans are taking advantage of products designed to help monitor existing conditions or to help diagnose new ones. Blood glucose monitors help diabetics manage their condition, blood pressure kits help monitor hypertension while those with cardiovascular concerns can track cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Of course, home pregnancy kits have been available for years. But now it is possible to go well beyond health management with these off-the-shelf products and individuals can now perform diagnostic tests in the comfort and “safety” of their homes.
But is this trend really safe?
Health care professionals have expressed concerns that the use of home test kits may cause users to delay or avoid proper medical care. Misinterpreting the results of self-administered tests can lead to decisions that are based on false assumptions. For example, there have been reports of people changing their medication dosage based on results of blood pressure readings at home. Decisions about any treatment based on self-administered tests should be deferred until a physician confirms them.
The list of conditions for which home diagnostic products are available is expanding rapidly. It is now possible to test for drug use, alcohol use, HIV, prostate cancer, hormone levels, diabetes, blood type, anemia, allergies, hepatitis, cholesterol levels, fertility and even certain strains of flu.
The opportunity is always present for a user to improperly administer a test or to misunderstand the results. Delaying treatment based on these results could have serious consequences. Now that the number of tests available is so large, and the conditions so potentially serious, it is absolutely critical that these test results be validated by a doctor.
Given this diverse menu of tests, users are sure to get results for which they may be unprepared. A positive reading for HIV could be devastating. Health care professionals are trained to address the concerns and possible psychological issues faced by a patient receiving bad news from a test. Individuals trying to cope with a similar result at home may find themselves alone and unable to cope.
Home health tests should be used with great care and should never be considered as a replacement for proper medical care. If you are seriously concerned about your health and well-being, it is fine to practice a bit of do-it-yourself medicine… as long as you get a second opinion.