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At-home screenings to cost consumers billions

Posted: 4:41 AM, Sep 22, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-22 09:41:20Z

Thyroid disease, HIV and certain types of cancer are all things people can now test themselves for right at home.

When it comes to at-home health screenings, sales are expected to increase by more than 31 percent from 2012 to 2017, bringing in more than $24 billion worldwide, according to BCC research.

However, when it comes to learning about your overall health, Dr. Lee Norman, Chief Medical Officer with The University of Kansas Hospital, said DIY tests are not always the best way to go.

"A lot of them are not particularly accurate," Dr. Norman said. "HIV, for example, the one where they swab the inside of their mouth, up to 10 percent are false negatives."

Testing an at-home screening kit

With no shortage of at-home screening kits, Terra Hall, a 41 Action News reporter, put one to the test. She checked her cholesterol with a kit that was picked up at a local drug store for about $20.

The instructions, she said, were difficult to understand. The kit required her to prick the end of her finger and then fill a blood well. Unsure if the prick even produced enough blood, she got her results, which came back with a total cholesterol of 130.

However, when she had her total cholesterol checked by her doctor, it came back at 175, a 45 point difference.

Dr. Norman said the test Hall took, aside from being confusing, had one other major problem.

"This doesn't break out the HDL, which is the good cholesterol, the bad cholesterol, which is the LDL,” Dr. Norman said. "It's just the total cholesterol number."

A number that doesn't tell a patient exactly what's going on with their health.

Problems with at-home screening kits

Dr. Norman said that's a problem with a lot of the at-home health screening kits that are out there. Many of them, he said, don't give you the full picture.

For people who don't want to pay for a doctor's office visit, if they get a positive test it's likely they'll have to pay for the visit anyway. A patient's doctor will do a screening to get confirmation that the person does have the disorder, meaning the patient winds up paying for the test twice.

Dr. Norman said another problem with DIY health screenings is that a lot of times people don't know the exact disorder to test for. For instance, a patient might think they have symptoms of HIV, when in reality their symptoms mimic a variety of diseases.  

While many of these tests can produce false positives, Dr. Norman said, on the flip side, if a test comes back positive, it's likely that the patient does in fact have the disease or disorder they're testing for.

"A positive is more likely to mean that they truly have the abnormality," Dr. Norman said.

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Jessica McMaster can be reached at jessica.mcmaster@kshb.com

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