Evaluations done to provide information on health and to assist in identification of a condition or diagnosis of disease or injury.
Medical tests are used to provide information to health care providers about a person's health status. Some tests require the collection of a specimen, as in a urine test, blood test, or biopsy. Some tests, such as an ear canal check or assessment of the heart and lung function using a stethoscope, are simple and non-invasive. Others, such as χ rays and ultrasound tests, require a visit
Health care personnel are required by law to obtain what is referred to as "informed consent" before performing any invasive medical test or procedure. This means that the health care professional must describe the test or procedure that he or she is suggesting the patient undergo, explain the risks posed by the test itself, outline what information the test will yield, and what benefits are expected from the test results. Children are not able to evaluate such information for themselves, so their parents or legal guardians will be responsible for obtaining and evaluating all aspects of the test or procedure and for making the decision to consent to it.
Following the tests, patients (and the parents or guardians of minor children) are entitled to receive a clear, comprehensible explanation of the test results. Legal access to test results varies from state to state, but in general a person's medical records are afforded protection under privacy laws. Many states allow patients to have full access to their own medical records, although in some cases a court order is required. If a doctor is not providing parents with complete and accurate information about their child's condition and treatment, in many cases parents are legally entitled to go to court to get the information they need. However, it is likely that such communication problems would indicate a change of physician would be appropriate.
Tests can give false results in a percentage of cases. Most experts recommend that a test be repeated before any major treatment regimen is begun. When a test result is positive, especially when the condition or disease being tested for is serious, it is appropriate to repeat the test using a different laboratory. Tests are performed by human technicians, using sophisticated equipment in many cases. Opportunities for procedural, specimen-handling, interpretation, and other errors can occur at many points during the process. Therefore, parents should be cautious and diligent in gathering information about any medical tests being performed on their children, and about action being taken based on the results.
Home medical tests
There are a number of medical tests that are manufactured and sold for consumers to perform at home. These range from blood glucose monitoring for people with diabetes mellitus to screening tests for indicators of diseases or conditions that may or may not have symptoms present. All home testing kits sold in the United States must receive approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Among those available are tests to monitor cholesterol; to screen for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS; to monitor blood presure; to monitor ovulation; and to detect hidden fecal blood (a possible indicator of rectal or colon disease). In 1997, the FDA approved an at-home drug testing kit aimed at concerned parents who want to be able to confirm (or rule out) their children's use of illegal drugs. Parents can also invest in an at-home ear examination kit, enabling a parent to examine a child's ears with an otoscope, similar to the one the family's pediatrician uses to examine the ear canal. The kit includes a booklet of color photos for the parent to use in determining whether the child may have an ear infection.
Medical tests that can be performed at home afford the patient control over and understanding of the functioning of his or her body. Supermarkets and drug stores report increases in sales of at-home kits that test for body fat, blood pressure, ovulation, and pregnancy. In 1996, sales of home diagnostic and monitoring products totaled about $1.2 billion, an increase of about 15% over 1995.
HOME MEDICAL TESTING CHECKLIST
- Check expiration date.
- Store test properly, being cautious about appropriate temperature.
- Read all instructions carefully and completely before performing the test.
- Consult a pharmacist or the toll-free number included with the product if any aspect of the procedure is unclear.
- Follow the instructions precisely. Don't skip steps, and follow timing instructions exactly, using a stopwatch or watch that counts seconds.
- Follow the guidelines for testing, which may include such things as avoidance of physical activity or a period of fasting.
- Keep accurate records of the date, conditions, and outcome of the test.
- If symptoms persist, consult a physician or other medical practitioner.
Pinckney, Cathey. Do-It-Yourself Medical Testing: 240 Tests You Can Perform At Home. New York: Facts on File, 1989.
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Shtasel, Philip. Medical Tests and Diagnostic Procedure: A Patient's Guide to Just What the Doctor Ordered. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.
Lieberman, Adrienne B. "Understanding Prenatal Tests."American Baby 58, November 1996, pp. 32+.
"Medical Test Kits." Consumer Reports 61, December 15, 1996,pp.219+.
Tippit, Sarah. "Home Medical Tests." Better Homes and Gardens 75, January 1997, pp. 50+.
The HIV Test?: An Informed Decision. Los Angeles: Churchill Media, 1991.
(One 10-minute videotape and one discussion guide.)