Billings Clinic has discontinued a 7-year-old program that gave residents the opportunity to get discounted blood work — at their convenience.
To help people take a more direct approach to their own health care, Billings Clinic started Lab Direct in the spring of 2004. The program, which averaged about 70 consumers each month, conducted several health tests, such as blood count, diabetes screening and cardiac risk panel, available to consumers without a doctor’s appointment.
Lab Direct was a familiar and popular stop at the annual Montana Agri-Trade Exposition in February when the number of consumers would double.
The program was launched with great fanfare and was touted as a way to enhance the doctor-patient relationship. Patients were encouraged to share the blood test results with their regular health care providers.
Citing “multiple reasons,” Billings Clinic pulled the plug on the program in March. The launch of Lab Direct followed in the footsteps of a similar program, LabCheck, offered through St. Vincent Healthcare. LabCheck began in July 2003 and continues with health screenings available at four locations.
Mark Lubbers, director of Billings Clinic Laboratory Services, said results of Lab Direct tests were only added to a patient’s medical record if the patient gave them to his or her physician. Billings Clinic relies on a “comprehensive” medical record that includes all lab and other ancillary services to determine an appropriate course of action for the patient, Lubbers said.
Coordinating lab tests through a physician-patient relationship ensures that all aspects are reviewed and eliminates duplicate tests or a patient misinterpreting results, Lubbers said.
Billings Clinic has ended the service to ensure its patients are afforded the best care in all circumstances “by utilizing a complete and comprehensive electronic health record,” Lubbers said.
Terri and Dean Kamps, who have owned Speedy Wash Coin Laundry for 23 years, were frequent users of Lab Direct. The couple does not have insurance and relied on the service for myriad tests, including thyroid, vitamin D and cholesterol, to save money.
Terri, 56, said a thyroid test through Lab Direct cost her about $25. She now estimates it will cost her $60 to $80 for the same test that her doctor will order.
“That’s quite a difference,” Terri said. “We live paycheck to paycheck, and it really saved us a lot of money.”
Melissa House, 50, of Billings, said she and her husband, Mike, 50, both used Lab Direct annually. Melissa said she received a letter that the service would be discontinued and finds it “frustrating.”
“We have insurance, but still, it’s more expensive to go through a doctor for these tests,” House said. “And, we like to be able to just walk in when it’s convenient for us to get the tests.”
House said she also liked to monitor her own results so she could compare year-over-year results.