Ohio physicians team up with online lab firm to provide low-cost blood tests
■ What started as a service to help area patients has expanded to benefit patients in 47 states.
The Summit County Medical Society in Akron, Ohio, is trying to make blood tests more affordable for uninsured and underinsured patients.
Initially, the effort was aimed at helping patients in northeast Ohio, but it has expanded -- with the aid of the Internet -- to benefit patients in 47 states. Through a link on the medical society's website, patients can preorder and pay for discounted blood tests at nearby labs. The service is being offered through a partnership with PrePaid Lab LLC, an Internet marketer of lab tests. The company is based in Avon Lake, Ohio.
"For doctors, it's a nice thing, because you have something you can do now to get patients labs they can afford," said Doug Lefton, MD, a family physician in Fairlawn, Ohio, and the medical society's special projects coordinator. He worked at American Medical News from 1981 to 1987, last serving as assistant executive editor for news.
Dr. Lefton said he used to be frustrated when a patient couldn't afford a needed blood test. The out-of-pocket cost of some tests can be as much as 10 times what health insurers pay, he said. "The poor guy who doesn't have insurance -- he doesn't have a company negotiating on his behalf."
For example, a lipid panel with low-density lipoprotein/high-density lipoprotein ratio is $17.77 through the service. The same test is about $43.65 retail, and some labs charge as much as $147, he said.
About 100 to 150 tests a day are ordered through the website, said Tom Patton, chief executive officer of PrePaid Lab. People with insurance also can order tests through the medical society's website (link). Test results are faxed to the physician and e-mailed to the patient. Patients "get to be involved in their care, because they see the results electronically," Patton said.
Patient Doug Lento of Barberton, Ohio, said he was between jobs and didn't have health coverage when he used the service. "I wouldn't have been able to afford to have the tests done if I had to pay full price," he said.
Marie Odell of Hudson, Ohio, said she and her husband need regular blood tests because he has diabetes and they both have high cholesterol. They began using the service after losing their insurance. "It really has been a lifesaver for us," she said.
For patients in the Akron area, the medical society partners with physician group Pioneer Physicians Network, which offers low-cost blood tests to uninsured patients at its Pioneer Central Laboratory in Tallmadge, Ohio.