Pensacola Magazine

Access Your Health With Direct To Consumer Lab Testing

By Kelly Oden

Wondering about the source of your fatigue? There’s a test for that. Trying to decide how to best treat your depression? There’s a test for that. Not sure you are getting enough vitamins? There’s a test for that. Hormones feeling out of whack? There’s a test for that, too, and guess what? You don’t necessarily have to visit your physician to find answers. You can access these and many more lab tests through direct-to-consumer (DTC) lab testing. This type of lab testing is on the rise and putting important diagnostic information directly into the hands of consumers. In years past, most lab testing, including hormonal, thyroid, nutrient and basic bloodwork all required a trip to the doctor, a potentially large sum of money depending on your insurance, and a relatively-long wait for results. The tides of medical care are changing and many consumers are taking their health into their own hands by taking advantage of a variety of home-testing, pharmacy testing and mail order testing options to help monitor an existing health condition, identify a medical disorder, or provide information about personal health issues—including the rapidly growing field of genotyping and nutrigenomics. While a number of online options are available, local labs and pharmacies offer a better solution as they often have staff on hand to interpret your results and recommend treatments or a specialized physician for further advice. Here are a few of the most popular and interesting tests available locally.

Gulf Breeze Apothecary

Gulf Breeze Apothecary (GBA) offers a Hormone Profile saliva test that consumers can do at home and send off for analyses. The kit tests for estradiol, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA, which is a precursor to several hormones. An adrenal stress protocol can be added to test cortisol as well. Customers can pick up the test kit at GBA, complete the saliva collection process at home and mail in the completed kit for analysis.

Hollie Fletcher, a clinical pharmacist at GBA, says many doctors send their patients to them because they prefer saliva tests to blood tests. Other times, a patient’s doctor does not do hormone replacement or is not well-versed in the subject. “In those cases, I can look at the test results with the patient and make recommendations to their provider,” says Fletcher.

Although many women who are peri-menopausal, pre-menopausal or menopausal seek out this test, anyone whose hormones feel out of whack will benefit from the testing. Clients are also able to purchase this testing without a prescription or recommendation from a physician. If bio-identical hormone treatment is desired, they will need a prescription from a physician, but Fletcher can help with those recommendations. GBA also does compounding medicine, including bio-identical hormone replacement, which Fletcher says is a more natural approach than some of the commercially available products.

Any Lab Test Now

Any Lab Test Now is a national chain of franchised testing labs offering hundreds of lab tests direct to consumer including basic bloodwork, DNA, thyroid, hormone, STD, and even forensic testing.

“Many people come in because they are feeling tired or not quite right,” says Mikeal Donald, owner of Any Lab Test Now in Pensacola and Daphne, AL. “They want to check their vitamin levels or hormone levels. We also do a lot of B12 testing and we offer B12 injections.”

“We also have a number of patients come in for STD testing,” says Donald. “Many people who are in a new relationship want to be responsible or worry that they’ve had some exposure. It may not be something they want to discuss with their family practitioner. They just want to come in and get the test done. We offer a private and discreet way for them to do that.”

Donald says DNA testing is a big part of her business as well. The most common DNA testing is for paternity, but they also do a lot of forensic work—from infidelity to criminal cases. One interesting test Any Lab offers is the new DNA Pharmacology test, which helps figure out which medications match your DNA profile and would therefore be more effective for your body. Another new test is a take-home test that allows users to get a DNA profile of their dogs that will tell owners exactly what breeds make up their furry best friend.

“Toxicology is also big in terms of people taking control of their health and wellness,” says Donald. “We offer a comprehensive date rape panel, which checks for the presence of drugs most commonly used in date rape situations. We also offer an alcohol effect panel. This is for someone who feels like they consume a lot of alcohol and they want to see what effect it is having on their body. Is this affecting my liver or kidney function? We do a child guard panel—with this we can test a child to see if they’ve ingested or been exposed to drugs. We use this in shared custody situations fairly often.”

Mikael says Any Lab’s direct access is beneficial for those who are curious about their health or for those whose insurance won’t cover desired tests. “Many times physicians order tests based on what your insurance will allow or pay for,” Donald explains. “Physicians have a responsibility to order things pertinent to the symptoms you are presenting and that’s great. We are not saying you should take the physician out of the equation, but sometimes you want to be the driver. Sometimes you want to know if what you are doing is working for your health. If any tests results are out of range, we make sure you are following up with a physician. It’s simple. Ten minutes will have you in and out and many times you will have results the next day.”

Everwell Specialty Pharmacy

Everwell Specialty Pharmacy works with a company called Spectracell, which allows them to offer a vast array of unique direct access testing including the popular hormone, thyroid, and DNA tests as well as more detailed tests like the neurotransmitter test, the micronutrient test and the telomere test. All labs are available without a doctor’s prescription and some are even covered by insurance. It is often an out-of-network fee and many tests have a typical copay of about $40-$45. “People are becoming increasingly more knowledgeable,” says patient care manager Kara Hyman, BSN RN, “and this provides them with a more active role that they can take in their health.”

At Everwell, clients come in and discuss their symptoms and concerns with Hyman and they decide what tests may be appropriate. For blood tests, clients are sent to a lab for the blood draw and have their results within three weeks. “They come back in and we sit down and go over everything in great detail,” says Hyman. “We then decide if there was anything that really needs to be addressed by a doctor. Everything is very personalized to their individual situation.”

Thyroid and hormones tests are very popular as well as the cardio metabolic profile, which measures lipoprotein size and density, cardiovascular risk stratification as well as triglycerides and traditional cholesterol screening.

One unique offering of Everwell’s is the neurotransmitter test—a urine test that looks at dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. “If someone is prescribed an anti-depressant because they have depression, but they are contemplating whether they want to go that route, we can look at their neurotransmitters to see if they are truly deficient in serotonin,” says Kara. “Do they need nutrients to boost serotonin? Or, if their levels are fine, then they know that an anti-depressant with that make up will not help their depression, so it’s time to look elsewhere—is it hormones or something else? Where is the missing link?”

Another fascinating aspect of DTC testing is the emerging field of DNA testing and genotyping, which provides a comprehensive view of the whole genome and detects genetic variations among individuals that may contribute to disease or inflammation. Popular genotyping tests include MTHFR, Apolipoprotein E, and Factor V Leiden and Prothrombin. Everwell offers a new genetic test, the Telomere Test, which could potentially have a big impact on lifespan. Telomeres are sections of DNA at the end of each chromosome that serve as a cap to your genetic material. Every time a cell replicates, its telomere will become shorter. Shorter telomeres imply a shorter life span for a cell. The Telomere Test measures the length of the client’s telomeres, which reveals the rate of biological aging and is strongly correlated with risks for chronic diseases. Lifestyle changes and therapies directed at slowing the loss of telomere length may slow aging and the progression of age related disease.

For those of you wisely counting nutrients rather than calories, Everwell’s micronutrient panel may help you determine areas of deficiency and allow you to alter your eating and supplementing routines to bring certain nutrient levels up. Micronutrient testing measures how micronutrients are actually functioning within your white blood cells. These tests allow for a nutritional assessment for a broad variety of clinical conditions, general wellness and the prevention of chronic diseases including arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular risk, diabetes, various immunological disorders and metabolic disorders.

A Valuable Tool

Jodi Brown, a local wellness chef and educator uses DTC lab tests routinely. Initially, she pursued DTC lab testing because she was uninsured and paying out of pocket. “The value for me initially was price,” says Brown. “It’s much cheaper. The other benefit is that there are things that I choose to monitor in my body based on what I know my health conditions are. For example, I want to make sure my vitamin D levels are good. I can order that test, I know the level I need to be at, so I can check it myself and save a trip to the doctor. It allows me to monitor the numbers based on what my doctor tells me I need to do within a range.”

Brown is a big believer in taking your health into your own hands, but she doesn’t believe people should do random blood testing without getting some advice about it first. “If you can develop a relationship with your doctor and figure out the zones and the numbers you should be within for a specific test, then you can follow up on your own. You should never try to diagnose or understand the testing on your own. You should have a professional that you trust do that with you,” she explains.

No matter your ailments or concerns, direct-to-consumer lab testing is a discreet, quick and often affordable option for monitoring your health and wellness. The results are confidential unless you choose to share with your medical provider, in which case they become a part of your medical record. DTC testing seems to be here for the long haul, as well. Kalorama Information, a market research firm specializing in healthcare, reports that the U.S. market for direct-to-consumer laboratory testing was worth roughly $131 million for 2015. Sales have increased from just $15.3 million in 2010, largely due to the growing trend for genetic testing. Clients taking advantage of this healthcare option should be sure to speak with their physician or health care provider if any result seems out of the normal or acceptable range.