One method for filling the gaps in a broken health care system?

In medicine — and particularly when dealing with cardiovascular issues — early detection is often the key to winning the battle. It is far easier for doctors to prescribe preventative measures than it is for them to repair damage caused by a traumatic cardiac event. Knowing this, medical technology has given rise to various platforms offering comprehensive health screening packages that operate independently from your primary care physician. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, these types of medical screenings are becoming more and more prevalent.

“In 2010, direct-to-consumer screenings represented a small part of the market with consumers in the U.S. spending $15 million,” Consumer Reports wrote. U.S. spending on these screenings was up to $1.15 billion in 2022 with projections estimated to surpass $2.73 billion by 2032, according to Consumer Reports. These are almost entirely out-of-pocket dollars as direct-to-consumer tests usually aren’t covered by insurance.

While these screenings may help fill the gaps left by a less-than-functional health care system, many questions remain about the practice: Are they legitimate? Are they more helpful than harmful? Are they necessary? We delved into the subject to find out more.

Examples of Direct-to-Consumer Medical Tests

  • Mobile screenings. Using portable equipment, companies such as AngioScreen, Life Line Screening and Matrix Medical Network offer ultrasound scans to screen for peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, carotid artery disease and aortic aneurysms. They often offer more comprehensive packages that include bloodwork, and they travel to community centers, churches, hospitals and workplaces.
  • Online and walk-in labs. Companies such as Walk-In Lab, Private MD Labs, and Direct Labs perform blood, urine and other lab tests without a referral. (In some states, a doctor’s authorization is required.) Walk-In Lab invites you to “take charge of your health and your wallet” by ordering anything from a $28 hemoglobin test to an $829 “anti-aging comprehensive panel” online.
  • High-end screening clinics. Companies such as the Princeton Longevity Center — which bills itself as “the Future of Preventive Medicine” — market comprehensive screening options. The executive health exam from Elitra Health in New York City costs $10,000 and includes a CT coronary scan and cardiac stress test. Additional services include carotid and abdominal ultrasounds and full-body CT scans.
  • At-home or in-store health tests. For some genetic tests, such as the $199 ancestry and health screening from 23andMe, you submit a vial of saliva and receive a report outlining your risks of illnesses like late-onset Alzheimer’s and certain cancers.

Is It Worth It?

Ultimately, whether you seek out a DTC medical test is entirely up to you. As we’ve mentioned, prevention and early intervention are crucial to a successful outcome if you have any cardiovascular issues, and these are tests that primary care physicians often won’t order unless they have good reason to. By taking matters into your own hands, you can avoid the hassle of negotiating with stingy insurance companies or fighting medical bureaucracies, particularly if you are aware of a family history of these kinds of conditions.

On the other hand, while the tests aren’t harmful, there are several ways in which the results could be more trouble than they’re worth. For one thing, my trusty Scam-O-Meter starts to ping whenever a purportedly medically oriented group offers discounted rates, annual memberships or other dubious practices that make them seem more like schemes than legitimate care. Similarly, it raises the concern about unnecessary medical testing in that it may cause more stress and anxiety instead of relieving it.

It all comes down to what you feel comfortable doing. This market arose because people have recognized that our medical system leaves much to be desired in its current iteration, so people are capitalizing on what our society needs. If you know your family history includes cardiovascular disease, this screening could well be something that saves your life. It could be a case of “better safe than sorry.”

Top image by Peakstock / Science Photo Library, via Canva.com.


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