NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 24, 2005

The rapid advance of medical science over the past century means more therapies are available than ever before. In the past, patients relied on physicians to provide information about medical developments. But as doctors become more hurried, they have less time for patient education. Patients are finding it increasingly necessary to take matters into their own hands, says Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

For instance, many firms now offer medical tests patients can order themselves online:

  • Direct Laboratory Services, Inc. ( and HS Labs ( offers blood profiles for $89 to $95.
  • Sales data show a growing trend toward over-the-counter purchases of self-diagnostic tests as well; from 1992 through 2002, sales nearly quadrupled, to $2.8 billion per year.

There is a wide variety of tests now available:

  • Home pregnancy tests are so common they are sold in pharmacies, grocery stores, and even inexpensive dollar stores; ovulation predictor tests and tests for menopause, cholesterol, and other conditions also are widely available.
  • One of the most common reasons kids see a doctor is for ear infections, yet, for about $50 parents can buy an EarCheck Middle Ear Monitor that uses sonar to check for fluid behind the eardrum, which may indicate an ear infection.

Likewise, kids often develop sore throats that don't require a physician visit. Families can buy a QuickVue Strep Test for about $90, providing 25 tests. The simple test differentiates strep infections, which require a physician visit, from viral infections, which do not.

Patients facing medical symptoms turn first to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for treatment -- accounting for 60 percent of drugs used by Americans. It is obvious that patients are already providing most of their own care, but now want even greater control over their health care, says Herrick.

Source: Devon M. Herrick, "Patients Want More Control Over Their Health Care," Heartland Institute, March 2005.


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