Why test for diseases at home?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all more aware of the risks of disease and the ways that we can take responsibility for our own health and that of others. It has highlighted the option of testing at home for some infections, which is becoming more and more popular. If you’re concerned that you may have developed an illness, could a home test be right for you?

Privacy

We all have parts of our bodies and aspects of our lives that we don’t want other people to know about. The availability of rapid HIV testing has provided a discreet option for people who feel uncomfortable about discussing their sex lives with doctors, and for victims of rape who don’t feel ready to talk. Other tests provide privacy to people with symptoms such as diarrhoea or bloody stools that they feel awkward or embarrassed about.

Access

For some people, getting to see a doctor isn’t easy. If you have a mobility impairment, you live in a remote place, or you simply have a very busy schedule, then a home test can be much more convenient. It’s also helpful in areas where service provision is poor and getting a doctor’s appointment takes weeks.

Time to adjust

When you are awaiting a result at home, it’s important to prepare yourself and have people around to support you, but if you want, you can simply tell them that you might have some bad news to deal with. You don’t need to share more information until you’ve had time to think about it and work out how you want to move forwards. Remember that helplines and condition-specific online advice and support groups are there if you need them.

Control over care pathways

Getting a positive test result at your GP’s surgery or in a hospital can be an overwhelming experience. It might mean being shuttled off for treatment before you really know what’s happening, or being bombarded with information you don’t really understand. If a home test result indicates that you’re ill, you will need to get help, but you can choose, for instance, which of your local GPs to approach, or whether you’d prefer to go directly to a specialist clinic. 

Things to consider

When you do a test at home, it’s important to make sure that you do it properly. Always check the expiration date first and make sure that the test has been stored properly. Follow the instructions carefully. Don’t be tempted to cut corners even if a step that you’re advised to take doesn’t seem to make sense. Remember that while positive results are usually accurate, with some types of test (such as faecal blood tests for colorectal cancer), there is a significant false negative rate – so if you still have concerns, then you may want to take another test in a few weeks’ time or talk to your doctor about it anyway.

At-home tests can never make all the stress associated with potential illness go away, but for some people, they make the process of finding out a lot easier. If you have worrying symptoms, they are always a much, much better option than not getting tested at all.

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