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Health Screenings: Should I Buy Commercial Tests?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Health Screenings: Should I Buy Commercial Tests?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Buy a commercial screening package. This is a bundle of screening tests offered by a private company. The tests you receive usually are based on your answers to a set of questions about your health.
  • Don't buy a commercial screening package. Work with a doctor to decide which screening tests you need.

Key points to remember

  • The goal of screening tests is to find a disease early so you can treat it.
  • Not all screening tests are right for you. A doctor can help you decide which tests you may need.
  • A package of commercial tests may include recommended screening tests based on your age, gender, and health. But it also may include tests that experts don't recommend.
  • Screening tests may find a problem that you don't need to worry about—the problem may never cause harm. Without a doctor's guidance, these results may lead to more tests and treatment that you may not need.
  • A package may seem like a good value. But you may be paying for tests you don't need.
FAQs

What are screening tests?

Screening tests look for potential health problems before symptoms appear.

Often, the earlier a disease is diagnosed, the more likely it is that it can be cured or successfully managed. When you treat a disease early, you may be able to prevent or delay problems from the disease. Treating the disease early may also make the disease easier to live with.

Can screening tests cause problems?

Screening tests can cause harm. Harm can come from:

  • The test itself.
  • An abnormal result that is not correct (a false-positive). This can cause unneeded worry and more tests and treatment that you don't need.
  • An abnormal result that may not cause you future harm. This can also cause worry and more tests and treatment that you don't need.
  • A normal result that is not correct (a false-negative). This can cause you to take no action. You may ignore symptoms of a problem because you think you are fine.

What are commercial screening tests?

Commercial screening tests are offered by private companies. The company usually sells a package of tests based on your answers to questions about your age, weight, smoking history, health problems, and other issues. The company may have a doctor you can talk to about the tests. But this is not the same as going to your own doctor who knows your health history.

Commercial bundles often include:

You may see offers for these packages in local newspapers or on the Internet. They may be offered at health fairs, places of worship, malls, and fitness centers. A local hospital or group of doctors may sponsor an event where the tests are offered.

Are all screening tests needed?

No. Not all tests may be right for you. Experts look at research on how well screening tests work. They also look at how a test may help you, whether the test may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems with the test. Then they recommend tests based on your age, your gender, your overall health, the cost of testing, and your risk factors. Risk factors are things that make getting a disease more likely. Many screening tests are not needed unless you have risk factors.

What are the differences between commercial screening tests and those you get from a doctor?

There are some important differences between commercial screening tests and tests a doctor may order.

Learning about the disease and the test

When you work with a doctor, the two of you can talk about the test in advance. This may not be possible when you buy a commercial package.

With a doctor, you can ask:

  • What the disease is, which test screens for it, and what the test is like. You can learn how the test may help you, whether the test may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems the test might cause. You can also talk about how you feel about the test, what you expect from it, and the cost of more testing or treatment.
  • How accurate the test is. You can learn how likely it is that the test would miss a disease (false-negative), would show that you have a problem when you don't (false-positive), or would find a disease that will never cause a problem.
  • About the treatment. You can learn how much the treatment is likely to help, if it will help you live longer, and whether the treatment itself can cause problems.
Getting your test results

When you work with a doctor, the doctor gets the test results. You will be able to ask questions and talk about the results. You'll be able to ask about next steps. You may be able to take steps to prevent a disease or ask about more testing or treatment.

How you get the results from a commercial package varies. The results may come to you and not to a doctor. A doctor with the company may talk about them with you. You may have to contact a doctor to talk about the results. And you can't be sure that the person who looked at the results was the best person to review them.

If you do talk to a doctor, he or she won't know your health history. This doctor will not be able to order more tests or treat you. You'll need to find your own doctor for that.

With a commercial package, you may not get copies of your medical images, such as X-rays or MRIs, or you may get copies only if they are abnormal. If you don't get copies, you will not have a record of the test. This means you may need to retake the test in the future. And another doctor won't have an earlier image that he or she can compare with images you may get in the future.

Who pays for commercial screening?

Talk to your insurance provider to see if they pay for commercial screening. Because tests in commercial packages may not be recommended by expert guidelines, the tests may not be covered.

Commercial packages often appear to be a good value. You get a lot of screenings for a low price. But you may be paying for tests that you don't need.

What are some tests that it's best to talk to your doctor about?

Commercial screenings often include tests that most people don't need or that very few people need. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not always recommend screening for:

  • Carotid artery stenosis (CAS). This ultrasound checks for narrowing of the carotid artery. It is often presented as "screening for stroke." The USPSTF does not recommend it for people who have no symptoms of CAS.
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) . The USPSTF does not recommend screening for anyone without symptoms of PAD.
  • Osteoporosis, if an ultrasound of the heel is used. The most-used screening for osteoporosis is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). All treatment guidelines are based on DXA. Heel tests provide a different form of results that don't give the same information as DXA results. This means there are no treatment guidelines for the results. If a heel test finds low bone density, DXA is recommended to confirm the results.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) . The USPSTF recommends this test one time only for men ages 65 to 75 who smoke now or have smoked in the past. This test is not recommended for women. But if a woman smokes and has a family history of AAA, her doctor might think about this test.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?

















What are the benefits?

















What are the risks and side effects?

















Buy a commercial screening package Buy a commercial screening package
  • You sign up for the package at an event or online and are given an appointment.
  • At the appointment, you are given the tests in the package.
  • How you get results depends on the company. The results may be sent to you, or someone may talk about them with you.
  • It may be convenient. You don't have to make more than one appointment or go to different offices.
  • The package may appear to be a good value.
  • Some of the tests you get may be useful.
  • You may not be able to talk with a doctor about whether you need the tests. You may not learn how the tests may help you, whether they may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems the tests might cause.
  • You may get a screening that you don't need or a screening for which there is little evidence about how well it works.
  • Screening may find a problem that you don't need to worry about—the problem may never cause harm. Without doctor guidance, these results could lead to other tests and treatment that you don't need.
Don't buy a commercial screening package Don't buy a commercial screening package
  • You set up a visit to talk with a doctor about screening and your overall health.
  • You set up a time to get the screening tests that are right for you.
  • The doctor follows up with you about the test results.
  • A doctor can make sure you get only the tests you need.
  • You can talk through your feelings about the tests and the diseases they screen for.
  • You can talk to a doctor before and after the tests to understand what the results mean.
  • It may be hard to set up or get to screening tests. You may have to make more than one visit to different doctors or facilities.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about deciding whether to buy a commercial screening package

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I saw an ad about buying a number of screening tests for one low price. I called a number to talk about it. I wanted to know more about the tests and whether they were right for me. The person on the phone really couldn't help me. Then I called my doctor. She said screening could be a good idea, but that it was important to talk it over and see what I really needed. I'm going to see her to talk about this next week.

Max, age 58

I understand that a commercial screening gives me tests that I may not really need. But I really want to know everything that is going on in my body. So I'm going to get a commercial package. If I have questions or a test shows something, I'll talk to my doctor about it.

Ruth, age 66

I was on the Internet and saw a website for a company that offered screening packages. I checked into it. A lot of the tests they suggested I don't need at my age, or the tests are something a visit to a clinic could take care of. It sounds like a good deal, but actually I'd be paying for a lot I don't need.

Carlos, age 48

I really like the idea of getting screening tests that I need at one time and at one place. This will save me a lot of time. But I know I don't need all of the screenings offered in a package. I'm going to call the company and ask about the three screenings I know I really need. Maybe I can get them for a good price.

Cindy, age 62

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to use commercial screening

Reasons not to use commercial screening

I don't have a family doctor or insurance.

I have a family doctor and insurance.

More important
Equally important
More important

I like the idea of getting a lot of tests at one time and in one place.

It's very important that I talk things over with a doctor, even if it's not convenient.

More important
Equally important
More important

A screening package sounds like a good value.

I only want to pay for tests that I really need.

More important
Equally important
More important

It does not bother me that I might not have the test results explained to me.

I want my doctor to explain the results to me and answer my questions.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to get all the tests available, even if I may not need some of them.

I don't like the idea of getting tests that I don't need.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Buying a commercial screening package

NOT buying a commercial screening package

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

Do you need to have all the screening tests there are?

  • Yes No, that's not right. Whether you need a test depends on your age, gender, and health, and the types of treatment available for the disease you're getting tested for.
  • No That's right. Whether you need a test depends on your age, gender, and health, and the types of treatment available for the disease you're getting tested for.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." You may not need all the screening tests offered.
2.

It's helpful to talk to a doctor about screening tests before I get them.

  • True That's right. It's best to learn whether you really need the test. You can also ask how the test may help you, whether the test may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems the test might cause. You can also ask what you can do if the result shows a problem.
  • False No, that's not right. It's best to learn whether you really need the test. You can also ask how the test may help you, whether the test may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems the test might cause. You can also ask what you can do if the result shows a problem.
  • I'm not sure There's a lot a doctor can tell you about a screening test. It may help to go back and read "Compare Your Options" to see how a doctor can help.
3.

If I have an abnormal result, I'll have to get more tests or treatment.

  • True No, that's not always true. Sometimes an abnormal result is not right. Or the result may not be something to worry about. It's important to talk with a doctor about what abnormal results mean.
  • False That's right. Sometimes an abnormal result is not right. Or the result may not be something to worry about. It's important to talk with a doctor about what abnormal results mean.
  • I'm not sure An abnormal result is something you'll want to learn about. It may help to go back and read "Get the Facts."

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision  

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts  

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act  

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Health Screenings: Should I Buy Commercial Tests?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Buy a commercial screening package. This is a bundle of screening tests offered by a private company. The tests you receive usually are based on your answers to a set of questions about your health.
  • Don't buy a commercial screening package. Work with a doctor to decide which screening tests you need.

Key points to remember

  • The goal of screening tests is to find a disease early so you can treat it.
  • Not all screening tests are right for you. A doctor can help you decide which tests you may need.
  • A package of commercial tests may include recommended screening tests based on your age, gender, and health. But it also may include tests that experts don't recommend.
  • Screening tests may find a problem that you don't need to worry about—the problem may never cause harm. Without a doctor's guidance, these results may lead to more tests and treatment that you may not need.
  • A package may seem like a good value. But you may be paying for tests you don't need.
FAQs

What are screening tests?

Screening tests look for potential health problems before symptoms appear.

Often, the earlier a disease is diagnosed, the more likely it is that it can be cured or successfully managed. When you treat a disease early, you may be able to prevent or delay problems from the disease. Treating the disease early may also make the disease easier to live with.

Can screening tests cause problems?

Screening tests can cause harm. Harm can come from:

  • The test itself.
  • An abnormal result that is not correct (a false-positive). This can cause unneeded worry and more tests and treatment that you don't need.
  • An abnormal result that may not cause you future harm. This can also cause worry and more tests and treatment that you don't need.
  • A normal result that is not correct (a false-negative). This can cause you to take no action. You may ignore symptoms of a problem because you think you are fine.

What are commercial screening tests?

Commercial screening tests are offered by private companies. The company usually sells a package of tests based on your answers to questions about your age, weight, smoking history, health problems, and other issues. The company may have a doctor you can talk to about the tests. But this is not the same as going to your own doctor who knows your health history.

Commercial bundles often include:

You may see offers for these packages in local newspapers or on the Internet. They may be offered at health fairs, places of worship, malls, and fitness centers. A local hospital or group of doctors may sponsor an event where the tests are offered.

Are all screening tests needed?

No. Not all tests may be right for you. Experts look at research on how well screening tests work. They also look at how a test may help you, whether the test may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems with the test. Then they recommend tests based on your age, your gender, your overall health, the cost of testing, and your risk factors. Risk factors are things that make getting a disease more likely. Many screening tests are not needed unless you have risk factors.

What are the differences between commercial screening tests and those you get from a doctor?

There are some important differences between commercial screening tests and tests a doctor may order.

Learning about the disease and the test

When you work with a doctor, the two of you can talk about the test in advance. This may not be possible when you buy a commercial package.

With a doctor, you can ask:

  • What the disease is, which test screens for it, and what the test is like. You can learn how the test may help you, whether the test may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems the test might cause. You can also talk about how you feel about the test, what you expect from it, and the cost of more testing or treatment.
  • How accurate the test is. You can learn how likely it is that the test would miss a disease (false-negative), would show that you have a problem when you don't (false-positive), or would find a disease that will never cause a problem.
  • About the treatment. You can learn how much the treatment is likely to help, if it will help you live longer, and whether the treatment itself can cause problems.
Getting your test results

When you work with a doctor, the doctor gets the test results. You will be able to ask questions and talk about the results. You'll be able to ask about next steps. You may be able to take steps to prevent a disease or ask about more testing or treatment.

How you get the results from a commercial package varies. The results may come to you and not to a doctor. A doctor with the company may talk about them with you. You may have to contact a doctor to talk about the results. And you can't be sure that the person who looked at the results was the best person to review them.

If you do talk to a doctor, he or she won't know your health history. This doctor will not be able to order more tests or treat you. You'll need to find your own doctor for that.

With a commercial package, you may not get copies of your medical images, such as X-rays or MRIs, or you may get copies only if they are abnormal. If you don't get copies, you will not have a record of the test. This means you may need to retake the test in the future. And another doctor won't have an earlier image that he or she can compare with images you may get in the future.

Who pays for commercial screening?

Talk to your insurance provider to see if they pay for commercial screening. Because tests in commercial packages may not be recommended by expert guidelines, the tests may not be covered.

Commercial packages often appear to be a good value. You get a lot of screenings for a low price. But you may be paying for tests that you don't need.

What are some tests that it's best to talk to your doctor about?

Commercial screenings often include tests that most people don't need or that very few people need. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not always recommend screening for:

  • Carotid artery stenosis (CAS). This ultrasound checks for narrowing of the carotid artery. It is often presented as "screening for stroke." The USPSTF does not recommend it for people who have no symptoms of CAS.
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) . The USPSTF does not recommend screening for anyone without symptoms of PAD.
  • Osteoporosis, if an ultrasound of the heel is used. The most-used screening for osteoporosis is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). All treatment guidelines are based on DXA. Heel tests provide a different form of results that don't give the same information as DXA results. This means there are no treatment guidelines for the results. If a heel test finds low bone density, DXA is recommended to confirm the results.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) . The USPSTF recommends this test one time only for men ages 65 to 75 who smoke now or have smoked in the past. This test is not recommended for women. But if a woman smokes and has a family history of AAA, her doctor might think about this test.

2. Compare your options

  Buy a commercial screening package Don't buy a commercial screening package
What is usually involved?
  • You sign up for the package at an event or online and are given an appointment.
  • At the appointment, you are given the tests in the package.
  • How you get results depends on the company. The results may be sent to you, or someone may talk about them with you.
  • You set up a visit to talk with a doctor about screening and your overall health.
  • You set up a time to get the screening tests that are right for you.
  • The doctor follows up with you about the test results.
What are the benefits?
  • It may be convenient. You don't have to make more than one appointment or go to different offices.
  • The package may appear to be a good value.
  • Some of the tests you get may be useful.
  • A doctor can make sure you get only the tests you need.
  • You can talk through your feelings about the tests and the diseases they screen for.
  • You can talk to a doctor before and after the tests to understand what the results mean.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • You may not be able to talk with a doctor about whether you need the tests. You may not learn how the tests may help you, whether they may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems the tests might cause.
  • You may get a screening that you don't need or a screening for which there is little evidence about how well it works.
  • Screening may find a problem that you don't need to worry about—the problem may never cause harm. Without doctor guidance, these results could lead to other tests and treatment that you don't need.
  • It may be hard to set up or get to screening tests. You may have to make more than one visit to different doctors or facilities.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about deciding whether to buy a commercial screening package

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I saw an ad about buying a number of screening tests for one low price. I called a number to talk about it. I wanted to know more about the tests and whether they were right for me. The person on the phone really couldn't help me. Then I called my doctor. She said screening could be a good idea, but that it was important to talk it over and see what I really needed. I'm going to see her to talk about this next week."

— Max, age 58

"I understand that a commercial screening gives me tests that I may not really need. But I really want to know everything that is going on in my body. So I'm going to get a commercial package. If I have questions or a test shows something, I'll talk to my doctor about it."

— Ruth, age 66

"I was on the Internet and saw a website for a company that offered screening packages. I checked into it. A lot of the tests they suggested I don't need at my age, or the tests are something a visit to a clinic could take care of. It sounds like a good deal, but actually I'd be paying for a lot I don't need."

— Carlos, age 48

"I really like the idea of getting screening tests that I need at one time and at one place. This will save me a lot of time. But I know I don't need all of the screenings offered in a package. I'm going to call the company and ask about the three screenings I know I really need. Maybe I can get them for a good price."

— Cindy, age 62

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to use commercial screening

Reasons not to use commercial screening

I don't have a family doctor or insurance.

I have a family doctor and insurance.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I like the idea of getting a lot of tests at one time and in one place.

It's very important that I talk things over with a doctor, even if it's not convenient.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

A screening package sounds like a good value.

I only want to pay for tests that I really need.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

It does not bother me that I might not have the test results explained to me.

I want my doctor to explain the results to me and answer my questions.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I want to get all the tests available, even if I may not need some of them.

I don't like the idea of getting tests that I don't need.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Buying a commercial screening package

NOT buying a commercial screening package

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Do you need to have all the screening tests there are?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Whether you need a test depends on your age, gender, and health, and the types of treatment available for the disease you're getting tested for.

2. It's helpful to talk to a doctor about screening tests before I get them.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. It's best to learn whether you really need the test. You can also ask how the test may help you, whether the test may lead to more tests and treatment, and whether there are any risks or problems the test might cause. You can also ask what you can do if the result shows a problem.

3. If I have an abnormal result, I'll have to get more tests or treatment.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Sometimes an abnormal result is not right. Or the result may not be something to worry about. It's important to talk with a doctor about what abnormal results mean.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

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