Home Testing

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Overview

Home testing offers several benefits including convenience and privacy, but it is important to understand that home tests may not be as accurate as hospital tests, and depend on you following the instructions provided very carefully.

In hospitals the staff who perform tests must undergo training in the testing procedure, and any machine used needs to be maintained and it’s quality carefully checked. Home tests can be used to screen for, diagnose or monitor disease. Many home tests are available over the counter (OTC) in local supermarkets or pharmacies or directly from manufacturers by Internet, phone, or mail order.

Examples of these include:

  • cholesterol, for assessing risk of heart disease;
  • glucose, for monitoring diabetes;
  • INR, to monitor the effects of warfarin therapy;
  • drugs to test for the presence of illegal drugs and drugs of abuse;
  • hCG, to screen for pregnancy;
  • faecal occult blood, to screen for bowel cancer; and
  • luteinising hormone (LH), to predict when a woman produces an egg (ovulation)

Most home tests, like those used for pregnancy testing, produce immediate results. Others tests are sold as collection devices for you use the device to collect a specimen (for example, urine or faeces) and then mail the device containing the sample to the laboratory for measurement. You must follow the instructions provided very carefully to avoid incorrect results. Lots of things can affect the result of a test, for example how the sample is collected, the time of day of collection, how accurately you time the test, or the impact of drugs and tablets you may be taking.

Although home tests are convenient, you may still need to have tests done by your GP or in hospital to make a diagnosis, or to monitor a condition.

In most situations where you are concerned about your health you would be best advised to make an appointment with your GP rather than do a home test. For instance, the faecal occult blood home test might falsely reassure you that you do not have a bowel cancer, where as your GP might decide that your symptoms need to be investigated more thoroughly using colonoscopy which is the appropriate test if you have symptoms of bowel cancer.

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