These days, if you don’t want to go to a lab to leave a urine sample or have blood drawn, you don’t have to. You can test yourself at home for a wide range of health conditions or diseases, including:
- Hepatitis C
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Prothrombin (for people on blood-thinning drugs)
- Strep throat
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Vaginal pH
It can be convenient to test yourself in the comfort and privacy of your home. But before you buy a home test, Grace Akoh-Arrey, a pharmacist with Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ, recommends you check to see if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has evaluated it for accuracy, reliability, validity and safety in clinical trials.
You’ll also want to consider the cost of a home test compared to a lab test. Keep in mind that you may need multiple rounds of testing for some tests, like HIV, to get an accurate result. And some lab tests might be covered by your health insurance, making them potentially less expensive than home tests.
What are the benefits of at-home health tests?
Akoh-Arrey points out the pros of at-home testing:
- You can test yourself privately for conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases where you might fear stigma.
- You can detect health conditions early, before you notice symptoms, and make healthy changes. For example, if you discover you have high cholesterol levels and take steps to lower them, you can reduce your risk of heart disease.
- If you live in a rural area or don’t have transportation, home tests can give you access to health information when it would be difficult to get to a lab.
- Home testing can make it easier for you to screen yourself for specific conditions and motivate you to manage your health.
- Most test kits come with a phone number you can call if you have questions about collecting your sample or understanding your results.
What are the downsides of at-home health tests?
Although at-home health tests can be more convenient, some tests are better given — and the results explained — by a health care professional. Here are some of the risks of at-home testing, according to Akoh-Arrey:
- You could misinterpret your test results, which could lead you to try the wrong medications or therapies, or delay diagnosis and treatment. Some test results can be tricky to interpret. “For example, the meaning of a false positive and false negative as well as true positive and true negative can be confusing,” she said.
- You might not choose the proper test, leading to unnecessary spending and anxiety.
- You might mishandle or improperly store your sample, leading to inaccurate results.
- Insurance doesn’t cover most home testing kits.
- You might make expensive changes based on the results of your test. For example, you might change your diet drastically in response to a food allergy test, even though those tests don’t always have clear results.
- If you get positive test results, you will need to follow up with your health care provider, resulting in another round of testing for confirmation, which can be stressful and expensive. But it’s essential to include your doctor so you can create a plan for moving forward together. You shouldn’t make any changes to your medications without consulting your doctor.
- You might turn to these home tests in place of regular health care assessments, so you could overlook a problem your doctor might pick up in a visit.
The bottom line
Home health tests can be a convenient and private way to test yourself for various health conditions. But before you try one, check to see if your test has been evaluated by the FDA and weigh the pros and cons to make sure you’re making the right choice. If you would like to talk about your testing options with a health care provider, reach out to Banner Health.
Learn more about testing and test results: