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Home testing spikes as some avoid the doctor during the pandemic

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — From online shopping to food on demand, industries built for convenience became essential as cities shut down and health care was no different.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has supercharged the market for at-home testing," said Derek Newell, president of LetsGetChecked.

With over 30 at-home testing kits, he says the company was ready to help fill the gap.

“Many people are discouraged from getting elective care," said Newell. "But people still need to get care, and people need to get testing.”

From men's and women’s health to wellness and sexual health, he says more people are discovering the range of tests that can be delivered to your doorstep.

“The tests that we’ve seen the most growth in are those related to condition management, like colorectal cancer screening; especially screenings that take up procedures," said Newell.

The kits are designed to be simple to use, with step-by-step instructions and how-to videos online.

Customers send their samples to a lab and get results within days.

“If you have an abnormal result, one of our physicians or nurses will call you and talk to you about the results and help you figure out how to access care," said Newell.

LetsGetChecked says combined with their at-home COVID-19 test, demand is up 860 percent.

Another popular home testing company, Everlywell, is also reporting massive growth during the pandemic:

  • Sales of most tests grew over 100 percent
  • Many major tests and categories are up 300-400 percent
  • Fertility test orders spiked 233 percent when stay at home orders went into place in March

“Access is important. People are not excited about going into the doctor’s office," said Newell.

He says their non-COVID test kits are FDA cleared and approved and are processed in certified labs.

“We analyzed over 10,000 results with the FDA and convinced them that these tests, including the human error, were as accurate as the tests that would be done in the physician’s office," said Newell.

But some doctors urge caution for consumers considering at-home testing.

“Laboratory tests are complicated artifacts," explained Dr. Sheldon Campbell, a professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

Sheldon is also the director of clinical laboratories for the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

He says while home testing can improve access to health care, he has concerns with the growing trend.

“A test ordered on somebody that doesn’t need it is not only wasteful, but it also is potentially dangerous because a false positive can lead you away from the true diagnosis," said Dr. Sheldon.

He sees some value in categories like sexual health, as STD testing can carry a stigma. But Campbell believes many conditions are best diagnosed by your doctor.

"A physician that knows you, knows your medical history and can put your new illness in the context of what you’ve got going on beforehand and your risk factors," said Sheldon. "And can interpret your results in light of that because it's all part of a story."

He says false positives or results taken out of context could lead to unnecessary additional testing and treatment. Or on the other hand, real problems could be missed. He suggests consulting your physician before ordering at-home testing kits.

But Newell points out that human error can also happen in a doctor’s office. As the company continues to develop more at-home tests, he believes convenience will drive the future of health care.

LetsGetChecked testing kits cost between $49 and $349. While they are not currently covered by insurance, Newell believes many customers appreciate the price certainty and says some have gotten reimbursed after submitting the data to their providers.

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