Concerns swirl around the delivery of test results without stand-by professional counseling
There’s a push-pull happening right now in the evolution of health care and it’s all about you. The question under debate is simple: can you handle being the first to know your own test results?
Are you smart enough to read the results? And are you emotionally capable of handling the situation?
Do you need someone next to you when an over-the-counter test tells you whether or not you have a disease? Can you manage your emotions when you open up the results of last week’s blood test when you find out your total cholesterol level has hit 250?
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has voted to recommend approval of the first in-home HIV test. The test, OraQuick, only involves using a larger version of a Q-tip to swab outer gums. Twenty minutes later, you find out if your immune system is gearing up to fight HIV. The decision is now up to the FDA.
Those arguing against allowing people to take the test at home are worried that they will freak out when they get their results. They say we need a professional at our side to interpret the results, point us to counseling and help ensure we feel supported.
With almost every healthcare test we get, there’s a wall that instantly goes up between us and our data. If you have a mammogram or a Pap smear, your doctor will typically get the results before you do. If you get an ultrasound, you’ll most likely be the last one to know whether it’s normal or not.
It’s not because you have to be a physician to understand the basics. At the top of most test reports the key finding is clear: “Normal.” Or “abnormal.” Then you can read on for more details. Home tests, like pregnancy tests and the new HIV test, usually turn a certain color to tell you the results.
With blood tests, there are usually two columns: your results, and “normal limits.” If your data is out of bounds, it’s often automatically highlighted. If you don’t know what the test means, you can Google it. Then you can go see your doctor and talk about next steps.
Some laboratories will send you your test results at the same time they send the results to your physician. Some won’t.
The labs and diagnostic centers that will not send you a copy at the same time say that it’s your physician’s job to review and explain the results to you. And some states actually prohibit it.
Your healthcare provider may have been the one to order the test but you’re the one paying for it. Even if you have health insurance and there is no direct cost to you for the test, it’s your insurance that covers the cost. The data is yours.
Granted, many people may not be interested in being the first ones to see their healthcare data and have some time to consider their questions before talking with their physicians. That’s fine, as long as it’s their choice.
But those who consider themselves the “CEOs of your own bodies” should have the option. You should be able to review your lab work or test results as soon as they are available.
What can you do?
Some labs offer to email you your test results or make them available directly to you, even on your smartphone. You can phone labs and ask them their policy about communicating test results before you get your blood drawn or have a diagnostic test.
You can ask your healthcare provider to specify on the lab order that the results be sent directly to both you and your doctor.
Instead of waiting for a phone call from the doctor with your test results, you can tell the office staff you’d like an appointment. Tell your healthcare provider something like, “My total cholesterol has gone up. I’d like to talk with you about it.”
Be sure to routinely file the test results in your own “Health Data” folder for future reference.
Barbara Bronson Gray is a nurse who blogs at BodBoss.