As individuals take on new responsibilities for their healthcare, laboratory testing is increasing in the home setting, one of the locations where point-of-care (POC) testing may take place. Some of the more common home tests include pregnancy tests and ovulation predictors, 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 (anticoagulant) medications. Other home tests allow individuals to collect samples at home that they then mail to a laboratory for analysis (for example, hepatitis C tests and some home HIV antibody tests).
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 healthcare practitioner.
Home tests offer 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 for performing the test were not followed.
All home tests must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some companies sell unapproved home testing products; those may be unreliable, so be sure that the test kit you buy is FDA-approved. A list of over-the-counter in vitro diagnostic devices is available online from the FDA.
Home tests are considered screening tests, and it is important that you follow up with your healthcare practitioner in case you need additional laboratory testing and so you receive the highest quality care possible. For additional information on home testing, see our article With Home Testing, Consumers Take Charge of Their Health.