New Arizona Law Allows Lab Tests Without Doctor's Order

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Monday, July 6, 2015 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - 8:31am
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(Photo by Alexandra Olgin - KJZZ)
Supplies used to draw blood.

Doctors order lab work to check a patients' health and look for a variety of diseases. Now, Arizonans don’t have to wait for a physician to write them a test order because of a new law that went into effect July 3. It allows anyone to get any test anytime, making it one of most expansive laws in the country.

Starting this week, patients will be able to walk into a testing center and order their own lab test.

A patient will chose a test and then get a finger prick. The small amount of blood from that finger prick can be used to for up to 70 different kinds of tests. California-based Theranos offers more than 200 different kinds of tests from glucose levels to HIV screenings. Consumers can see the results on their phone in a few days.

Vicki Wieler is looking forward to checking her own health on her time frame. 

“Nowadays a person has to be 100 percent in charge of their own healthcare," she said. “If I wanted to check on my cholesterol, I could just go in and get a quick cholesterol test.”

Wieler would have to pay out of pocket because the law doesn’t require insurance companies to cover the lab tests. But a cholesterol test with Theranos costs as little as $3.

Wieler said this way of testing is much cheaper because it cuts down on doctors’ visits.

“Everytime you go to the doctor you’re paying," she said.

There are 41 testing centers in Walgreens around Arizona. Theranos holds several patents on its technology, which it claims can run multiple tests on smaller amounts of blood. But some scientists are skeptical about the quality of results because, until recently, details of the technology and process hadn’t been released to the public. Last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the finger stick device.

Theranos isn’t the only one offering these tests. Some more traditional laboratories, such as Sonora Quest Labratories, are also now offering direct access testing.

Vice President of Business Development Christina Noble said, “We don’t know where this is going to lead. This could become a larger part of our business moving forward.”

The company decided to make a portion of its tests available to the public. Even though the state law doesn’t require doctor's involvement Noble highly recommends it. 

“We believe strongly that the patients need to have that relationship with the provider to make sure they are choosing the right test at the right time for the right condition," She said.

Twenty-seven other states and Washington D.C. allow residents to order tests directly. The practice is unregulated in many of those places and so it’s legal in the absence of a prohibition. Nine states allow a limited number of tests with a doctors order and 13 prohibit it.

President of the Arizona Medical Association Dr. Nathan Laufer said he wants patients to get blood work he orders in a timely and affordable manner. 

“If they can go and get this kind of a blood test done at their local pharmacy for a fraction of the cost and then send us the results, that could be quite beneficial to the patient," he said.

Sonora Quest and some other labs charge significantly more for some tests than Theranos. Dr. Laufer is concerned that with expanded access and low-cost tests, some patients may over zealously test themselves.

“It’s a mixed blessing for our practice," he said. “I think we are going to be getting a lot of phone calls asking us to interpret tests we did not order.”

The law includes a provision that excludes doctors from being required to review the results of tests patients get on their own.

Laufer said he hopes routine checks on sugar levels and cholesterol will allow patients more proactively follow up on their health. But since Arizona is one of the first state to have this broad of a testing law, the real effects remain to be seen.

Updated: 7/7/2014 12:36 p.m.

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