Direct access testing (DAT) has been a special interest of mine over the past many months. In general, it provides a way for healthcare consumers to obtain lab tests at a reasonable price by ordering them on the web. Mr. HIStalk alerts us to one such site launched by a physician in Ohio and using his county medical society web site as the test ordering vehicle (see: News 12/10/10). His goal was to provide such testing for uninsured patients but anyone can use it. Here's the initial report:
An Ohio doctor, angry that his uninsured patients can’t afford the lab tests they need, strikes a deal with LabCorp and an online lab test marketer to offer his patients discounted tests (example: a $148 lipid panel costs his patients $18). The patients simply order their tests from the county medical society’s site, pay by credit card, and go to LabCorp to get the tests.
Here's a link to the original report on the CNN web site that inspired the HIStalk piece (see: Doctors slash patients' lab-test costs). Below is an excerpt from the article:
So the Fairlawn, Ohio, family physician [Dr. Doug Lefton} decided to do something about [expensive blood tests]. Working with other doctors and an online marketer, Lefton devised a way to slash the cost of lab tests not only for his patients but for almost anyone, anywhere. As a former newspaper reporter, Lefton understood how publicizing a problem can generate solutions. He contacted the Akron Beacon Journal, which subsequently published a story highlighting the high cost of lab tests. He was soon contacted by Tom Patton, CEO of PrePaidLab, an Avon Lake, Ohio, online marketer of lab tests. Working with the Summit County Medical Society, Lefton struck a deal with LabCorp, one of the largest testing companies in the country, and PrePaidLab. The arrangement allows patients to get lab tests done for a small fraction of the normal cost, simply by ordering them through the medical society's website.
My understanding is that most of the various DAT web sites use LabCorp as the back-end performing laboratory. Such a relationship is absolutely necessary because of the requirement of a large network of blood drawing stations (i.e., patient service centers) plus accredited clinical labs to perform the actual tests. It's always been of interest to me that LabCorp was willing to do this DAT work and risk channel conflict. As the second largest commercial lab in the country after Quest, the company performs lab tests originating in physician offices. However, in this high volume, low margin work, apparently every additional test order helps. Moreover, LabCorp keeps a very low profile on the various DAT web sites. If you point your browser to the Pre-PaidLab.com web site, you won't find a reference to Lab Corp other than the locations of the blood drawing centers, which will be LabCorp facilities. Also of interest is that Pre-PaidLab has an "affiliate program" and offers a 17% commission on blood test orders referred to their site from other web sites. It may be that the Summit County Medical Society is picking up some extra income from these lab tests intended for cost-conscious consumers.