1. Will my insurance cover it?
The only way to be sure is to reference your health insurance plan for details. Lab work can be costly and you’ll want to be covered at the highest possible rate. Many insurance plans allow patients to choose their lab but some, especially HMOs, are more limited. Many times patients with HMOs are required to visit a particular lab in order to get full coverage. Check your plan details before visiting a lab and avoid a costly surprise.
2. Is the lab accredited?
When it comes to lab work you want the best. Mayo Clinic reports that an estimated 60 to 70 percent of all decisions regarding a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, hospital admission and discharge are based on laboratory test results. If your lab results are wrong, the consequences could be dire. There are many accrediting institutions but one of the most respected and well known is the College of American Pathologists (CAP). This accreditation covers the entire spectrum of laboratory test disciplines with the most scientifically rigorous customized checklist requirements. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services (CMS) granted the CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program deeming authority, which allows CAP inspection in lieu of a CMS inspection. It is also recognized by the Joint Commission (an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the US.) and can be used to meet many state certification requirements. You can see labs with CAP accreditation here. Also check in with the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) – which covers about 254,000 laboratory entities. From here you can access your state’s department of health and CLIA’s regional offices to determine if the lab is licensed.
3. Is it convenient?
Lab tests often require special circumstances. Sometimes you need to abstain from food (fasting) or get several tests done over a period of time in one visit. If you can’t eat before having your blood drawn you’re not going to want to drive to a lab that’s an hour away. If you are someone who has to have regular testing done you might want a lab closer to work than to home. Take some time to plan accordingly and pick a location that makes your life easier. Making time for lab tests is difficult enough without logistical problems. Bonus: Some labs might offer house calls – where a phlebotomist will come to your home at a day and time that’s convenient for you.
4. How is the service?
Consumers share their experiences all the time. Do a quick search on facebook, Yelp and Twitter to see what people are saying about the lab you’re researching. Your doctor or his or her staff might also be able to steer you in the direction of a good lab, but you need to remember to double check if your insurance covers their recommendation.
5. How fast can you get results?
Waiting is stressful. Research shows roughly 80 percent of patients would rather have online access to lab results within three days, no matter how dense the jargon, than wait a week or longer for a doctor’s interpretation. Make sure the lab you choose has the option to create an online patient portal that posts lab results. If it doesn’t, it may still be possible to have the lab send results to you and your doctor at the same time. Either way, you’ll have to do some work in advance to ensure you get your results faster.