More and more tests are being adapted for use at home as patients take on new responsibilities for their health care. Some of the more common home tests include pregnancy tests and ovulation predictors for women, blood glucose monitors for diabetics, fecal occult blood tests to screen for colorectal cancer, and prothrombin time tests to monitor appropriate dosage of blood-thinning medications. There are other tests that allow patients to collect samples at home that they then mail to a particular laboratory for analysis (for example, home HIV antibody tests and hepatitis C tests); some of these may require a doctor's order.
Home tests are available directly over-the-counter at pharmacies, over the Internet, by telephone, or by mail order. Some may require a prescription from a doctor. Home tests offer definite advantages, including convenience, privacy, and rapid results. However, consumers should be cautious when using home testing. For example, results can be inaccurate if the kit has not been stored properly, if the sample was not collected correctly, or if instructions were not followed. All home tests must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are also companies selling unapproved home testing products, which may be unreliable – be sure that the test kit you buy is FDA-approved (a list of over-the-counter in vitro diagnostic devices is available at http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfIVD/Search.cfm).
Home tests are considered screening tests, and any abnormal results should be reviewed with your physician. For additional information on home testing, see our article With Home Testing, Consumers Take Charge of Their Health.