Patients “Bypassing” Doctors To Order Tests From Labs

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FOR THE SECOND TIME IN eight weeks, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has a printed a prominent story about trends in laboratory testing.

Last Friday, June 8, 2001, the WSJ’s “Health Journal” column featured a story entitled “Patients Bypass Doctors to Get Medical Tests Directly From Labs.” Trigger to this story was the fact that Quest Diagnostics Incorporated is rolling out a “direct- to-consumer” testing program in five states this week.

Columnist Tara Parker-Pope provided a reasonable overview of the pros and cons in the debate about whether consumers should be allowed to order lab tests directly, without consultation with a physician. She also included information about the cost of testing, giving prices charged by a number of labs willing to deal directly with consumers.

This column follows on the heels of one that Parker-Pope wrote on April 13, 2001, titled “Risk of Error May Justify Second Opinion On Pathology Reports.” Taken together, the amount of coverage that the Wall Street Journal is willing to give to pathology and clinical lab testing services demonstrates its belief that this is a high-interest topic with its readers.

Consumer Demand Rising

Without question, consumers are becoming more involved in their healthcare. Just as their doctors rely on lab tests for diagnosis and monitoring, consumers are learning to pay close attention to their own test results. This is a logical development, but one which clinical labs and pathologists have been slow to recognize.

The WSJ story mentioned a few Web-based lab test companies, such as,, and This is another sign of rising consumer interest in self-directed lab testing. These companies would not have been created without consumer demand for these services.

Story On Pathology Errors

THE DARK REPORT recommends that clinical laboratories and pathology group practices should be responding to this developing trend in two ways.

First, every lab should have a Web strategy. It doesn’t require much money and time to establish a simple Web presence. However, that immediately gives consumers a way to know that your business exists. Content and services can be added on an incremental basis. Second, labs and pathology groups should begin to identify ways to service consumers. This effort should lead to a specific strategy for responding to consumers that is part of every lab’s strategic business plan.

Keep in mind that the competitive marketplace never stands still. The efforts in direct-to-consumer testing by Quest Diagnostics will soon be mirrored by Laboratory Corporation of Americaand other lab companies. Today, labs have a window of opportunity to establish their presence with consumers on favorable terms.


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