Diagnostic Labs and Blood Tests: Should I Get Them Through My Doctor?
What Are Diagnostic Labs and Blood Tests?
Diagnostic testing, a.k.a. “lab work,” is a catch-all term for any test which is is “likely to provide information which aids in the making of a diagnosis.” Diagnostic tests are performed in labs using samples of human body fluids or tissues such as blood, urine, saliva, and epithelial cells.
Blood tests are by far the most common type of diagnostic tests. Among the most common types of blood tests are: the complete blood count, often used to test for anemia and immunodeficiency; the hemoglobin A1c test, used for diagnosis and treatment of diabetes; the thyrotropin test, used to test for proper thyroid function; and the prostate-specific antigen test, used to screen for prostate cancer.
Urine tests are the second most common type of diagnostic test performed at clinical laboratories. Urinalysis is commonly used for drug screening, as well as to diagnose urinary tract infections, diabetes, and other conditions.
Where Should I Go If I Need a Clinical Lab Test?
The two largest diagnostic laboratory companies in the U.S. are LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics. Quest Diagnostics has approximately 130 physical locations spread across the Bay Area, while LabCorp has 90. The third-largest diagnostic lab company in California is BioReference, with 19 locations near San Francisco or San Jose; while most common blood tests are available through BioReference, the company specializes in DNA and genomics testing. Alternatively, some doctors have their own diagnostic laboratory services on-site at their offices.
How Will I Be Billed for My Lab Work?
Most lab companies accept payment via private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and cash. If you have health insurance, it’s worth checking to see which diagnostic lab companies have contracted with your insurance carrier — you might end up paying a lot less than you would otherwise. If your co-payment amounts are high, it might also be worth exploring your self-pay discount options, to see if you qualify for any discounts that allow you to pay in full with cash at a lower price than your co-pay. The other factor to consider is trust, and if you trust your doctor’s referrals above all, then perhaps you don’t mind paying a few extra bucks.
What If I Don’t Have Insurance That Covers My Lab Work?
Nearly all lab work and blood tests are available at a cash price, and often — but not always — at a discount. LabCorp even accepts payment via credit card, and Quest allows payment in installments.
LabCorp has a program called LabAccess Partnership, which is designed specifically for uninsured patients and insured patients whose plans don’t cover clinical lab testing. Note that to be eligible for a discounted price at LabCorp, your test must be ordered in advance by a doctor; you cannot simply walk in and buy any test that you want at a discount. The discounted prices are flat regardless of your income level, and you must pay for services up-front. On the bright side, LabCorp’s prices generally trend around 5% to 30% lower than Quest’s prices for the same tests.
Quest Diagnostics offers a two-pronged Patient Assistance Program. The first part is a payment plan, which allows you to pay for your lab work in monthly installments if you cannot pay the full balance up-front. The second part is a Financial Assistance Program, which offers tiered discounts based on federal poverty guidelines from the HHS; these discounts are income-contingent, but may be quite substantial — sometimes up to 100% — for those who can prove eligibility.
How Much Will My Blood Work Cost?
Most routine tests are in the high tens to low hundreds of dollars, but some can cost far more or less. If your doctor has already referred you to a lab for a specific test, you might still be able to save money by using Sami-Aid to search for that test and compare prices at different labs.
A word of caution: Sometimes, multiple tests with the same name will actually vary significantly, so make sure you’re comparing prices on the correct tests. For example, at least 20 different food allergen profile tests offered by LabCorp all fall under the CPT code 86003, so it can get quite confusing! Luckily, Sami-Aid has already read the fine print for you, so you can compare lab test prices with confidence using our signature Price Search tool.
In addition to the test fee, labs charge a blood draw fee for drawing your blood on site. Quest Diagnostics charges a draw fee of $25, LabCorp charges $30, and BioReference charges $8; LabCorp’s fee is reduced to $10 for uninsured patients. If your blood is drawn at a doctor’s office and sent to the lab, then there will be no additional draw fee from the lab.
Can I Get Lab Work Done Without a Doctor’s Order?
Yes and no — for most routine clinical laboratory tests, it’s possible to obtain them without visiting a doctor in person. However, per regulations in every state except Arizona, you will still need some type of “doctor’s order” documenting the specific tests to be performed. Sometimes, this is simply a form downloaded from a website with no guarantee that any doctor has actually looked at or signed it. Ordering lab tests online is perfectly legal in all states except New York and a few New England states. You can order direct-to-consumer lab tests online through third party providers such as RequestATest, Walk-in Lab, or Direct Labs.
There are pros and cons to taking this route, and you should be sure that you’re making an informed and responsible decision. Direct access to diagnostic testing certainly helps make these tests more affordable to patients. However, some doctors warn that this model can have serious downsides, such as over-diagnosis due to false positives, potentially leading to further invasive and dangerous treatments. If in doubt, you should consult with your physician before ordering any test.
If you still want to be sure you’re consulting a licensed physician but need a test order quickly without waiting for an appointment, a good option is to call a telemedicine doctor through Sami-Aid.