Health care’s race to the consumer was met with some chatter last week with the announcement that LabCorp will allow patients to order their own diagnostic testing through their consumer lab.
This is good, but consumer lab testing can be a tricky proposition. Numbers and results devoid of context are only numbers. Outside of the body from which the number comes and divorced from the patient’s story, these numbers may represent data more than information. Empowerment in this case is relative
Some tests are remarkably sensitive, specific and precise for over the counter sale. Some aren’t.
Celiac disease is a good example. The interpretation of celiac serology can be challenging at best. Beyond basic serology, HLA typing is conceptually dicey. And in the absence of clinical context, weighing results with presentation to deliver a plan can be dicey.
But as medicine marches toward the precise, this ambiguity will become less of an issue. Celiac disease will be diagnosed with solid endpoints. A nanofleck of blood will deliver answers that will require less clinical overlay.
Yesterday on Twitter I suggested that doctors had officially been marginalized. Or maybe we can decide how marginalized we’ll be. Until consumer testing and interpretation is so good that patients will stop looking to clinicians for help, It will be up to physicians to figure out where they fit among a patient and her data.