FYI Daily

Retail Labs: Patient Resource or Marketing Success?

Last updated:

January 18, 2012

Want your lipid panel tested without a doctor's referral? According to NPR, retail labs like Any Lab Test Now and its competitors are cropping up all over the country.

At first glance, they offer convenience and control to patients. No lines. No doctor referrals. No insurance authorization. Just walk in, select your tests off a long list, pay (more than at a normal lab), and get your results in a few days.

Kevin Hein, a lawyer who represents walk-in lab franchisees is (perhaps unsurprisingly) positive about them. Hein told NPR, "It's another way for people to take control of their own health and monitor stuff that they feel is important to monitor without always having to have a doctor involved."

But Michael Wilkes, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis, says that's exactly the problem. "If you order enough tests, something will eventually come back positive," he said. And getting positive results without a doctor to interpret them for you may be anxiety-provoking, especially if you're the type to worry enough to seek out one of these labs anyway.

And even if you think Wilkes and his fellow doctors have their own agenda -- requiring anyone who wants a lab test to go through them -- the whole premise of the retail lab is to sell, at a profit, medical tests that a doctor may never have ordered.

Rodney Forsman, president of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association, said, "From a marketing standpoint it's a good position to be in where you create a service, create a demand.... It becomes a consumable, like Starbucks or bottled water."

What do you think? Is the Starbucksization of the medical profession a good thing?