Retail labs let patients bypass physicians

With the pressure mounting on physicians to reduce unnecessary testing and services, a new retail niche is opening for companies that allow patients to order their own tests, NPR reported.

At Any Lab Test Now, for example, which has 100 stores nationwide, patients can go to a storefront and order, off of a "menu," tests from an HIV screening to a "fatigue" panel. According to company co-owner Anthony Richey, the service is appealing to patients because it's convenient, fast and confidential. Although a company physician reviews the results before releasing them to patients, he or she provides no medical advice other than to follow up with one's own physician.

Even though some states such as New York and Rhode Island prohibit what's called direct access testing, experts expect testing franchises to prosper in a market where insurance companies pass along more lab costs to consumers.

But despite its potential to empower patients, critics say the trend comes with risks. For example, Michael Wilkes, professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis, noted that inevitable false-positive results will not only cause patients anxiety but also lead to an array of unnecessary repeat and additional tests when patients follow up with their physicians, ultimately driving up health costs. Moreover, experts such as Rodney Forsman, president of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association, said they worry about the motives of those turning lab tests into a commodity.

To learn more:
- read the post from National Public Radio's Shots blog