Investigation on BMJ reveals that dozens of UK companies are offering private blood tests for various diseases and deficiencies, with some making misleading claims without evidence and leaving an already overburdened NHS to monitor “abnormal results”.
Consumers are promised that such tests will help them take control of their health and detect problems in time, but journalist Emma Wilkinson believes that the tests often contradict official medical recommendations and do not fully explain the implications of the results for the patient.
In a linked opinion piece, experts highlight several areas of concern and argue that private blood testing companies need clear regulation to prevent lower-quality, over-advertised testing with potential harm to individuals and unnecessary costs to the NHS.
Based on the results of this investigation, BMJ referred two companies to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for making false claims about the accuracy or detection rate associated with home tests. Another removed the tests from his site afterward BMJ made a request.
Examples of private testing include regular blood tests that promise to predict how many healthy years a person has left to live; fatigue and fatigue test, which measures iron, thyroid hormones, vitamin levels and inflammation; and screening with the option of a full refund if users’ results are within normal limits.
But Bernie Croal, president of the Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine, notes that 5% of test results will fall outside the normal reference range, so very few people will get “abnormal” results, even if there’s nothing wrong with them. .
Moreover, the National Screening Committee does not recommend many of these tests “because it is not clear that the benefits outweigh the harms”, but patients often ask their GPs to review the results of private blood tests, creating additional volume work for an already stretched NHS.
In 2019, the Royal College of General Practitioners published a position statement on private health screening, warning that “the organization initiating the screening should not assume that GPs will deal with the results”.
However, the companies that sell the tests believe that private testing is important.
Sam Rogers, a GP in south-east London and chief medical officer at Medichecks, says people are referred to a GP after the test in around 7% of cases, while Salovey said his tests are designed to “predict and prevent , not for diagnosis or treatment,” and it did not provide test results per se, but general risk information and lifestyle recommendations.
Still, it’s clear that the amount and accuracy of information consumers are given when purchasing tests online varies greatly, Wilkinson writes.
For example, a prostate cancer risk test (PSA) is available on the NHS for asymptomatic men over the age of 50 after discussing the risks and benefits with their GP. However, private tests are readily available without age recommendations, and some contradict official guidelines about their accuracy.
Wilkinson reports that private tests are also being promoted by the NHS-endorsed Patient Access programme, despite being strongly discouraged by the NHS.
Sean O’Hanlon of EMIS, the health IT company behind the app, says all private provider testing services listed on Patient Access have been selected after careful review by a clinical panel of UK GPs in the while NHS Digital states that services offered through third party applications or websites connected to the NHS Login service are the responsibility of the companies providing them.
But experts are calling for better regulation. Dr Margaret McCartney and her colleagues say the NHS “needs to clearly explain the criteria for high-quality screening and testing, and to explain when consumers should be skeptical and what they should be in doubt”.
They argue that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) should be empowered to assess apps that promote private testing, as well as the testing companies themselves, and say that making companies responsible for following up on abnormal test results “could help reduce the negative impact on the NHS”.
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The rise of direct-to-consumer testing: is the NHS paying the price?, BMJ (2022). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.o2518
British Medical Journal
Citation: UK concerns over unregulated over-the-counter health checks that could put extra pressure on NHS (October 26, 2022) Retrieved October 26, 2022, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-10-uk-unregulated-over -the-counter-health-extra.html
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