The Growing Trend in Home-Diagnostic Medical Kits

If you’ve been to the drugstore lately you may have noticed all the medical testing kits you can use in the privacy of your own home.  You can check your blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels, diagnose allergies, hepatitis C, colorectal screenings and more.

I have even heard of a machine that can diagnose a heart attack – “our kit lets users determine whether they need to rush to the hospital.”  I’m not sure about this one.  If my husband was showing symptoms of a heart attack, by the time I unpacked the kit, read the instructions as to how to attach the leads and then tried to interpret the results, he may be a lot better off if I just dialled 911.

However, patients are clearly wanting to take an active role in monitoring their own health so self-screening can be very useful.

Advantages of home kits

Medical test kits for home use can help you do the following:

  • Diagnose and screen for a health condition so you can get early treatment.
  • Monitor certain medical conditions once you’ve been diagnosed by your doctor, (e.g. cholesterol or blood glucose tests) so you don’t have to make frequent lab visits.

They are relatively cheap, convenient and easy to use.

Test kits fall into 2 categories.

  1. Testing – the patient collects the sample, performs the test and reads the results.
  2. Collection – the patient collects the sample, mails it to a lab and obtains the results in a few days by phone or on-line.

They can provide patients with information about their current health condition which helps them make informed decisions.

How accurate are they?

When performed according to directions, home tests can be quite similar to, but not necessarily the equivalent of, those performed in laboratories.

Although their use may be convenient, you need to know what to do with the information.  The kits should never replace a follow up visit to your doctor. It’s important to realize kits are not a replacement for professional health care.

Report positive test results immediately to your doctor to confirm the result.  Tests are best evaluated together with your medical history, a physical examination and other testing.

A negative result could offer false reassurance.  Consult your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms or have concerns.

Buyer beware

Be sure the product being used is licensed by Health Canada and if there’s an expiry date it hasn’t expired.

Buy from a reliable source.  Be especially cautious of test kits sold over the internet.  In some cases, the product may not be licensed for sale in Canada (e.g. SensAheart mentioned above), or you may end up getting a defective product.  It may not meet Canadian requirements of safety and effectiveness.

Don’t try to save money by doing things like cutting glucose test strips in half so they’ll last longer.

Store the test kit properly and read the directions carefully to be sure you understand what exactly you’re supposed to do.

There’s also a chance you may interpret the results incorrectly.  Interpreting test results should always be part of a health assessment from your doctor before you decide to change your treatment.

Some users may become obsessed with testing themselves and become overly worried about their heath.

The bottom line

Technological advances, plus changing attitudes towards patients’ responsibility for their own health care have made home medical test kits a growing market.

Plus, they can undeniably be an economic benefit to a stressed health-care system.  But while the kits can be a convenient and inexpensive way to acquire information about your own health, they are in no way meant to replace qualified medical are.

Have you used an at-home medical kit?  If not, would you?


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