It’s great to get the all clear from the GP when you’re worried about your health. But now, with self-test health kits, you can now do it yourself at home. But is this always a good idea?
We’re all being encouraged to take responsibility for our own health, so with DIY tests available in high street chemists and online, should you pick them up along with your paracetemol and tissues?
We decided to investigate these self-test kits and, let’s just say, they didn’t get a clean bill of health. We looked at kits that were aimed at conditions like prostate and bowel cancer, stomach ulcers, and urinary tract infections, as well as measuring blood glucose and cholesterol levels (associated with diabetes and heart disease).
Disappointingly we uncovered instructions that were either unclear, or didn’t give enough detail on taking samples. Plus, our experts found that there wasn’t always enough information on the box, making it difficult to decide whether it was the right product for you.
I’m no doctor, so I’d be relying on crystal clear directions to make sure I used the test properly and didn’t do anything that would affect the final result. But even the medical professionals assessing these kits found some of them difficult to use.
Dangers of a false-negative result
What if one of these tests give you a false result? At best you might be worried or frightened unnecessarily. For example, tests for stomach ulcers measure the presence of particular bacteria, but only a minority of people with the bacteria actually get a stomach ulcer. However, at worst, a false-negative might stop you from getting medical help as early as possible.
We interviewed a group of men who disliked the idea of going to the doctor for a prostate cancer test. They said they would rely on a negative home test result rather than visit their GP. But the tests themselves are only one part of a diagnosis, and doctors will take other symptoms and lifestyle into account.
High cholesterol, for example, is linked to an increased risk of coronary artery disease, but it can also be a symptom of an under active thyroid. A doctor can tell you if that’s the case; a test result can’t.
Go to your doctor instead
I can see the attraction of putting my mind at rest without sorting out convenient doctor’s appointments. But, if I’m honest, I’d only be comfortable without a doctor being there to talk me through the implications if I had a good result.
We found that many self-tests would need to be followed up by a visit to the GP anyway, so I’m finding it hard to see the benefit of paying for them in the first place, even if they are only between £5 and £16.
Having the choice to manage my own health is a good thing, but I don’t think I’ll be taking DIY health tests until I can be confident that I’ll always get full and clear information on whether I need a test, how to use it and what the results mean. What about you?