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Private Practice: Home health-test sales swell
By DEPARTMENT Monday, Apr. 18, 2005
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For years the thermometer was the lone device in most homes for checking a family's health. If a woman thought she was pregnant, she talked to her gynecologist. If a man had chest pains, he consulted a cardiologist. If someone was a diabetic, he visited an internist who could check the sugar content of his blood.
Today, however, health tests designed for home use make it possible to identify and monitor many conditions without seeing the doctor. Uncomplicated do-it-yourself tests can be routinely obtained without prescription in drugstores across the U.S. For diabetics, Miles Laboratories makes the $150 Glucometer, which registers blood-sugar count. A diabetic applies a drop of blood to a 50¢ chemically treated strip, which is then fed into the machine. For couples hoping to have children, Tampax introduced in April a urine test that can pinpoint when a woman will be ovulating. Because of such advances, the fledgling self-care industry is in robust health. Last year revenues from home tests totaled about $800 million, according to Creative Strategies Research. One industry leader, Warner-Lambert (1984 sales: $3.2 billion), predicts the home health-kit market will grow 27% annually for the next five years. C.B. Fleet's kits for detecting blood in the stool-a possible sign of colitis, ulcers and colon cancer --doubled after President Reagan underwent surgery in July for the removal of a polyp from his colon. Since the first home test for pregnancy, Warner-Lambert's e.p.t., appeared eight years ago, health kits have become easier to use and more accurate. In 1977 e.p.t. provided an answer in two hours. A new version introduced this week, Improved e.p.t. Plus, takes ten minutes. Even the trusty old thermometer has been improved. Marshall Electronics' digital thermometer, which gives an easier-to-read display, cost $39.95 when it was released in 1979. Today's handier model is priced at just $9.95. Most doctors endorse home tests as monitoring tools but warn they should not be used without periodic office checkups. A report by Research & Forecasts, an opinion-survey firm, on bloodpressure monitors showed that 75% of doctors surveyed thought such units would aid in the fight against hypertension. Says John Ballin, director of drugs and technology for the American Medical Association: "The medical profession applauds these products as a positive step in preventive medicine." The success of a few products has inspired a host of others. Miles Laboratories sells a test for urinary-tract infections, Medical Frontiers markets a product called V.D. Alert to test for gonorrhea, and Thermascan expects to have a home check for breast diseases,
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