Thyroid disease is a common yet often overlooked occurrence. Recently, thyroid patients have begun to take matters into their own hands by using at-home thyroid testing kits. There are many benefits that come with at-home testing. However, there are also potential drawbacks. Having a strong understanding of the pros and cons of at-home thyroid testing allows you to make a more educated choice and take more responsibility for your own thyroid care.
What is an At-Home Thyroid Test?
For a variety of reasons, thyroid patients often do not get the full range of thyroid tests required to accurately assess thyroid function – learn more about the inadequacy of the the TSH test here. The at-home thyroid test helps alleviate this problem by giving patients access to high-quality testing. At-home testing is a straightforward method of getting various thyroid tests including thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) free T4, free T3, and thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO).
There are two main methods for at-home thyroid testing: direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing and fingerstick bloodspot testing.
The quality of DTC testing is near identical to tests acquired through a doctor’s office. This is because most doctors and DTC providers utilize many of the same labs and testing facilities.
Unlike typical medical testing, DTC services require that you choose and order your own tests. This can be beneficial as it gives you the freedom to select a broader range of tests that you would otherwise have difficulty acquiring.
The actual process of DTC testing is simple. First you must select a provider and create an online account with them. Next you select and pay for the thyroid tests you would like to have run. You will then be given access to a printable lab slip that you must be taken to a local laboratory collection facility where your blood will be drawn for the test(s). Once testing is complete your results will be sent to you electronically.
Fingerstick Bloodspot Testing
The bloodspot method of testing is more hands on than DTC but can be done entirely from the comfort of your own home. To begin the process, you must select and pay for a collection kit. Once it arrives you are free to conduct the collection process yourself. Collecting a sample requires pricking your finger with a lancet and then dripping the blood onto a filter card. These and other materials are provided in the kit. After collecting an appropriate sample, you send it off to the lab of your choice. Shortly after, you will receive your test results electronically.
If done through a reputable provider, the quality of a bloodspot test is similar if not equal to those requested by a doctor. In fact, some studies state that blood spot testing is just as accurate as traditional thyroid testing methods.
What You Need to Know Before Testing
Before using an at-home thyroid test, such as DTC or fingerstick bloodspot testing, it is important to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks associated with them.
Benefits of At-Home Testing
Access to Full Range of Testing
Unfortunately, in the current medical climate it can be difficult for patients to acquire the full range of tests needed to get an accurate assessment of their health. Using an at-home thyroid test gives you the freedom to get all the tests and data necessary to gauge thyroid function.
Available to Everyone
There are several reasons why one may have difficulty getting thyroid tests through their doctor. Fortunately, DTC and bloodspot tests are available to all people and do not require signing off from a physician in order to have them done. This is particularly beneficial for patients who otherwise do not have easy access to medical testing.
Private and Easy-to-Read Results
The results of at-home thyroid tests are sent directly to you and are not seen by your doctor, health maintenance organization, or insurer unless you choose to share them. Additionally, some at-home tests include a simplified breakdown, possible implications, or a commentary that accompany your results to help you better understand them.
Drawbacks of At-Home Testing
Out of Pocket Expenses
Insurance typically covers all or some of the cost for thyroid testing ordered by a doctor. Sadly, the same cannot be said for at-home testing. However, in some cases, flexible spending and health savings accounts may apply. Always be sure to research testing costs and understand your fiscal obligation before committing to a test.
Risk of Not Recognizing Test Errors
All testing has the potential for error. One way to protect against incorrect information is by having an expert examine the results. This is partly why people rely on doctors for testing. In the case of at-home thyroid testing the safety net of a doctor to check results is removed. As such, patients who are not familiar with reading reports may run the risk of making a poor decision based on inaccurate information or misinterpreting the results.
Poor Quality Companies
Regardless of what type of testing is done, if it is conducted using poor procedures or equipment it will likely not be accurate or beneficial. When tests are done through a doctor there is assurance that a lab has already been vetted and results are likely to be correct. When using an at-home test, make sure to research thoroughly and confirm that testing is done using a licensed testing lab that is CLIA-certified. This provides some insurance of quality testing practices.
The Importance of a Knowledgeable Thyroid Doctor
Even though doctor-directed testing can be troublesome, that does not mean you should discount the care of a good thyroid doctor. If you have a thyroid condition, it is critical that you have access to a knowledgeable practitioner. With at-home testing some patients feel empowered to make changes to their thyroid treatment without doctoral consultation. While it is important to be involved in your care and treatment, a wrong adjustment can have severe or, in some cases, life-threatening ramifications. Therefore, even if you are confident in your ability to assess lab results, it is essential that you speak to a doctor with a strong understanding of the thyroid before making any changes.
At-home thyroid testing comes with both positives and negatives. Now that you are more familiar with both sides, you can make a more informed choice about how to proceed with your thyroid testing and treatment. Keep in mind that regardless of your testing decision it is critical that you ensure quality care by securing the assistance of a knowledgeable thyroid doctor.