08-23-2008: San Jose Mercury News
Home medical kits put patients in control of monitoring health
Article Launched: 08/23/2008 01:31:28 AM PDT
From the comfort of their San Jose home, far from a doctor’s examination table, Frank Barteaux checks his blood sugar every morning while his wife monitors her blood pressure.
They don’t need a physician to do the daily readings. Instead, they use small, home health kits available at most pharmacies. Yes, there’s some cost involved – $59.99 for the blood pressure monitor, close to $70 for the glucose kit, and a few bucks for replacement batteries – but what a steal compared with what they save in doctor’s visits.
“It’s just like having a doctor’s office,” said Barteaux, 73, a diabetic. He goes to the doctor twice a year but, “this,” he said, referring to the kit, “checks me every day.”
Health care has largely become a personal affair, packaged for American consumers who are less likely to rely only on their doctors for health information. Now you can diagnose your symptoms on the Internet, monitor ovulation cycles without ever stepping into a fertility clinic and buy an alcohol breath analyzer test at your neighborhood pharmacy.
In just the last month, at least two new self-diagnostic products were on the market: CardioChek, a cholesterol test; and HairConfirm, which identifies traces of illegal and prescription drugs in hair follicles.
“It’s really a convenience factor,” said Zeynep Ilgaz, president of Confirm Biosciences, which makes HairConfirm. Families, she said, also appreciate the privacy. They can send their kids’ hair samples to a lab for analysis and call an anonymous hotline for results.
Home health kit retail sales topped $773 million last year. And though store sales are dropping off, both Ilgaz and the makers of CardioChek report the online market is taking off.
But in a world of do-it-yourself health, no one has quite figured out how to ensure users later share the test results with their doctor or understand how patients use the dizzying amount of health information available on the Web. Researchers in the United Kingdom recently published a study about the “unsatisfactory” and “potentially misleading” medical information available on Web sites selling home diagnostic tests.
“Obviously one of the issues about any self-diagnosis is, what happens with the results,” said William Parrish, executive director of the Santa Clara Medical Association. If a doctor didn’t order the test, “What’s the follow-up going to be?”
Some results, like those from a home HIV collection kit, can be difficult to interpret without a doctor’s perspective, said San Jose physician Dr. John Longwell. Studies have recently shown that HIV swab tests performed in hospitals are overly sensitive, which concerns Longwell about the accuracy of collection tests used in the home.
Or kits can signal that someone has high blood pressure, but they can’t diagnose why.
“You don’t always know what the products can do,” said Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, a senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Biomedical Ethics.
It’s likely more of us will need to take charge of our own health histories: The American Medical Association reports that the numbers of primary care physicians and nurses are declining.
Already doctors are too rushed to spend much time with their patients, and fewer physicians practice general medicine, Longwell said.
The more patients know about their bodies, the better.
“We want people to take more responsibility for their own health,” Longwell said. CardioChek and HairConfirm both come with pamphlets listing various health and social service resources for help. Their manufacturers agree that no test can substitute for a doctor’s advice.
Nancy Lonsinger, vice president of consumer marketing for Polymer Technology Systems, the makers of CardioChek, figures the people who take the time to test for cholesterol levels care enough to consult medical experts.
“You want to share those things with your doctor, you want to share those things with your family and you want to communicate these things and take action,” agreed Ilgaz. “People have to be aware that these are only tools.”
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08-23-2008: San Jose Mercury News
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