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Tighter checks on over the counter tests needed, say doctors

Government should set up system to check out quality of tests and scans

Lisa Hitchen

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The burgeoning trend in health tests by private companies has prompted doctors and scientists to call for a national system to evaluate such tests.

New developments are driving more and more tests onto the market where they are promoted to consumers, they say. This could be harming the worried well who may be getting checks and results they misinterpret.

In their report, The Evaluation of Diagnostic Laboratory Tests and Complex Biomarkers, they say a database should be set up like the British National Formulary, which doctors and the public can access, giving evidence on performance and usefulness.

The report, put together by the Foundation for Genomics and Population Health and the Royal College of Pathologists, wants the government to be responsible for getting the evidence and paying for both the evaluation system and database to be set up.

The authors are putting this to MPs today during a parliamentary briefing.

The report is published alongside a guide for the public by charity Sense About Science. Its Making Sense of Testing guide explains about tests, scans and diagnostics and their limitations.

It says most tests weren’t designed for well people and in a lot of cases, are not researched or regulated properly. They are also only one part of a diagnosis but many people misunderstand that.

"Our jaws dropped when we first heard from doctors and pathologists about the high risks and dubious benefits of some of the tests people are buying," said Tracey Brown, Director of Sense About Science.

Professor Peter Furness, Vice-president of the Royal College of Pathologists, said: "Market forces only work if consumers can judge the quality of what they are getting. But even professionals find it difficult to assess the quality and usefulness of medical tests. To base an important decision only on one-sided marketing hype is surely a recipe for disaster. We need an independent system to evaluate all these tests, with its results published and easily available to everyone."

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