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New law lets Jamaica lab pitch direct medical tests

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Sophora Diagnostic Laboratory in Jamaica plans on capitalizing on a state law passed in September that allows patients to order over-the-counter medical tests directly from laboratories without a doctor’s prescription.

“This puts the cart before the horse,” said Dr. Andrew Messana, a doctor at the lab, at 79-18 164th St. “You want to know if you’re pregnant, if you have diabetes, if you have hepatitis — you can find out before you go to the doctor ... I feel this will boost business a lot.”

Sophora Diagnostic Laboratory is one of the first laboratories in the area to make an effort to publicize direct access testing, Messana said. The company is planning on putting up signs to advertise that the direct tests are available and considering placing ads in local newspapers.

Before the law was passed, patients had to obtain a prescription from a doctor to get any kind of laboratory testing done, with the exception of blood typing.

The new law allows laboratories to perform any medical test that is available over-the-counter by consumer request without a prescription. Common over-the-counter tests include pregnancy tests, HIV tests, cholesterol tests, diabetes screening, Hepatitis C tests, tests for drugs of abuse, and PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer.

Patients who request tests will be given pre- and post-test counseling. The counseling does not take the place of treatment by a doctor, Messana emphasized.

According to Messana, some doctors had opposed the law in the past, saying that it was dangerous because people would take it upon themselves to practice medicine.

“In general, the Department of Health recommends a comprehensive strategy which includes the role of a physician in all stages of health-care decisions,” said Kristine Smith, a spokeswoman for the state DOH. “However, in some cases, it may be beneficial for individuals to have direct access to clinical lab testing.”

The new law would directly benefit patients who do not have medical insurance and cannot afford to pay for a visit to the doctor, Smith said.

Prices for over-the-counter direct access tests at Sophora range from $10 to $30. The tests are not covered by medical insurance.

“The price range is very nominal — lower than the kits you would purchase at a drugstore,” Messana said.

Unlike drugstore tests performed at home, laboratory results are more accurate and do not have to be repeated after they are brought to a patient’s regular doctor, Messana added.

“It’s peace of mind,” Messana said. “For example, if the individual was fooling around with drugs, he doesn’t have to go to a doctor and spill his beans. Then if the test is positive, they can go to a doctor and say I did this and I did this.”

Sophora laboratory performs about 60 different tests. If a doctor requests a test that is not performed by the lab, the patient’s sample is sent to another laboratory where the test is available.

Prescriptions are still needed for tests that are not available over-the-counter. One of the most common tests requested by physicians is the SMAC 21 test, a blood chemistry test which screens many organs of the body, Messana said.

“In the long run, doctors will come out ahead because those people who test positive will go to a doctor eventually,” Messana said. “This is helping consumers to be healthier.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 229-0300, ext. 155.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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