Home test kits: 5 questions to ask before you buy

Consumer Reports News: June 08, 2009 04:14 PM

Home medical test kits can offer convenience, cost-savings, and privacy—and there seems to be no end to what they can detect: pregnancy, menopause, fertility, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and whether you’ve had too much to drink. I even found kits that test for paternity and infidelity—move over Maury Povich. But not all kits will save you time, or money. For example, a cholesterol kit for frequent at-home testing may be unnecessary since cholesterol levels don’t change much from day to day. On the other hand, some inexpensive drugstore kits, like the ones used to detect yeast infections and pregnancy, can give you fast, accurate results without the need for follow-up lab work.

The most useful home tests are those you use to monitor chronic conditions between visits to your doctor, such as a blood pressure monitor or blood glucose meter. They can give you immediate feedback so that you can make adjustments and help prevent serious complications, among other things. But talk with your doctor before you invest in one.

But watch out, costs for home test kits vary widely. For example, ovulation kits range from around $3 to more than $50 , breathalyzer tests from $15 to $80, and cholesterol kits from $12 to $174 or more. So, before you set out to do-it-yourself, consider the following:

  1. Will this test save you a trip to the doctor's office? If not, self-testing won't save you time or money.
  2. Do you know the next step? Don't take a test if you don't know what you'll do with the results.
  3. Is it FDA-approved? Approval suggests that a test is plausible, fairly accurate, and relatively easy to use.
  4. What does your doctor think? Your doctor may have good reasons for discouraging you from doing home testing. And if you're reluctant to bring up certain issues with your doctor, it's time to look for a new one, not start testing at home.
  5. Will it be covered by insurance? Many aren't, but those ordered by your doctor usually are—so it might be cheaper to have your doctor do the test.

Ginger Skinner

Read our full report on home medical test kits, and see our Ratings for blood-pressure monitors, blood-glucose meters, radon test kits, and lead test kits (subscribers only).

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