From Our 2008 Archives

Web Site Demystifies Lab Tests

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) — For many Americans, the meanings of various lab tests have long been the Bermuda Triangle of health care: poorly explained and often mysterious.

Enter a nonprofit Web site from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) called Lab Tests Online. It offers patients easy access to detailed but consumer-friendly information on lab work and test results.

"Traditional lab medicine has been an invisible component of health care," observed George Linzer, executive producer of the Web site. "It's just like when you turn the light on: You really don't know all that's transpiring between that action and the light turning on in your room. Similarly, we go to our doctors, and they take our blood, and we get results back — but often without much of an explanation from the physician or nurse or even the lab itself about what's just happened. We don't understand the process."

"But now we're in a culture where the consumer is really taking more responsibility for their care," added Linzer. "So, this Web site does just one thing: It focuses exclusively on providing up-to-date, evidence-based information on lab tests that's been vetted by representatives from just about every major lab organization in the country. No other Web site does that."

If numbers are any indication, the public education effort — supported by 19 of the leading lab organizations in the United States and Canada — has been a notable success. The site routinely experiences more than 1 million hits per month, and, by this fall, a total of 50 million visitors will be expected to have logged on for a free crash course on what a blood and fluid work-up really means.

On the home page, users can seek out information on the why, when and how of about 250 of the most common lab tests; scroll through lay-term language explanations of a range of conditions and diseases; and review outlines for general screening protocols and recommendations according to patient age. The site also offers the latest news regarding lab test innovations.

In addition to providing links to other mostly governmental and non-commercial sites, patients can also pose specific questions to a volunteer staff of lab scientists — getting a response within 24 to 72 hours.

The site's popularity has led the AACC to establish other sites around the world. Currently, local versions are active in the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Poland. Future sites are in development for Greece, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

"Our experience is that regardless of where people are and what medical system they encounter, they want more information than simply a doctor telling them 'We need to do such and such tests' or 'Your tests are normal,' " explained Dr. D. Robert Dufour, an emeritus professor of pathology at George Washington University Medical Center and the Web site's international liaison editor.

"And we get a lot of comments from users who say they're not getting enough time with their doctor to discuss the issue," he added. "So, they're anxious while waiting for their results and anxious when they get them. And this site helps to relieve some of that anxiety, by telling people what certain tests are used for, when they're ordered, factors that might affect interpretation, what results mean and, more importantly, what they don't mean."

Dufour noted that although the site is written for the lay public in mind, they've found that one-quarter to one-third of users are, in fact, health-care professionals.

"And we actually have a lot of doctors who are referring patients to the site," noted Linzer. "And as a consequence, we've gotten comments back from patients that now that they have this information, they are able to go and talk more intelligently to their doctors. So, we think, in the end, that this is a site that both patients and doctors have come to appreciate."

SOURCES: George Linzer, executive producer, labtestsonline.org, Washington, D.C.; D. Robert Dufour, M.D., emeritus professor, pathology, George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, D.C., and international liaison editor, labtestsonline.org

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