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You Can’t Yet Get a Blood Test Online, But Personalabs Is Close Enough

BY: SHANNON GRILLI | 9.30.2016 |

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A few months ago, I became sick with a mysterious illness. My symptoms were rather vague, so my doctor ordered a series of blood tests to rule out certain conditions. At first I felt relieved: running so many tests at once would certainly produce an answer. But things didn’t prove to be as simple as I had hoped.

The nurse at the office told me I could come in to have my blood drawn at any time, so I arranged to work from home and came in the next day … only to find that she had forgotten to tell me I needed to fast for 12 hours before the test. I arranged to work from home again the following week, but, this time, the lab technician had locked herself out of her computer and was unable to process any tests that day.

Fast-forward another week. This time, my blood was taken and I spent the next three weeks eagerly awaiting my results. When they came, they were devastating—not because I had some incurable disease but because a mistake was made with the order. Instead of being tested for the eight or so diseases my doctor had ordered, I was only tested for one.

Waiting over six weeks for answers when you’re ill can be frightening, but the worst thing throughout this whole process was how powerless I felt. Instead of being in control of my own health, I was dependent upon many other people who all needed to do their job correctly and efficiently to provide me with answers.

Personalabs is just one of several companies looking to put that control back into the hands of patients. Through the company’s website, customers have access to hundreds of different medical tests that they can purchase for themselves. The customer still must arrange to go to a lab to have their biological sample taken, but they no longer have to arrange to take off work to see the doctor first or be dependent on a doctor to decide which tests are necessary.

Independent lab testing basically eliminates some of the middlemen from the process, making it easier, and often quicker, for patients to get results.

How it works

Personalabs offers more than 300 different blood tests, which create allergen profiles, examine testosterone levels, and measure just about everything in between. Customers simply create an account, then select and purchase the test or tests they want. The company will generate a doctor’s order in about 60 seconds.

From there, customers simply take the order to a Quest Diagnostics lab near them to have their blood taken and tested. (Lab orders are restricted to personal physicians in about five states; check Personalabs FAQ page to see that you don’t live in one before you go.) For what it’s worth, Quest is the same company that does the labwork for my doctor’s office.

Many results are ready within 2–3 days, though some can take as long as 7–10 days. The report is exactly the same as it would be if the patient’s doctor had ordered it, and it’s sent back to the patient through Personalabs’ secure, HIPAA-compliant online portal.

Who benefits from this type of testing?

The short answer is anyone, really. But the company purposefully keeps its costs manageable to make testing accessible to people who have no health insurance or insurance restrictions. That’s not to say that the bloodwork is cheap: most tests range from about $40–$50 up to $400, though a few are even more pricey. But for many without insurance, this may prove less expensive than the traditional route, especially when you deduct the cost of a doctor’s visit without insurance.

But even if you have good insurance (as I do), paying for a medical test out of pocket may be preferable to waiting months to see a specialist for a recommended blood test. If you’re concerned you have a serious illness, the cost might be worth it just to get answers (or peace of mind) faster.

But you don’t have to be sick

According to a Personalabs spokesperson, many people simply opt to have general testing done to get a better idea of their overall health. For that type of customer, the company offers comprehensive female and male wellness tests that broadly evaluate organ function and screen for issues such as liver disease and diabetes. These tests may also identify diseases like ovarian or prostate cancer and may help otherwise healthy people catch an issue early.

What happens if you test positive for something?

Say you test positive for Hepatitis B or receive results indicating a high blood glucose level.  What comes next? Regardless of the condition, if a blood test comes back abnormal, Personalabs customers have several options:

  • They can share the report with their primary care physician.
  • If the customer doesn’t feel comfortable sharing the information with their regular doctor—or they don’t have one—Personalabs provides access to a network of physicians who can help explain the results.
  • If a patient needs further assistance, they can also purchase a virtual doctor’s appointment on the Personalabs site. The assigned doctor can help them decide the next steps, if any, they need to take.

Are there drawbacks?

Some critics worry that companies that offer independent testing seek to profit from people’s health anxieties. It’s easy to see why: in an era when the internet makes it easy to self-diagnose yourself with numerous incurable diseases, it can be tempting to test yourself for every disorder in the book. Someone with health-related fears could quickly spend a small fortune to test for conditions that a doctor might deem unnecessary based on an evaluation of symptoms.

Yet for those who have very specific concerns and a dearth of time and funds, it may be preferable to waiting weeks for an answer. At the end of the day, we all have a right to know what’s going on inside our own bodies, and independent testing facilities simply give us a little more control over how—and how long we wait— to find out.