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Before 2020, the thought of taking a blood test at home would have been ludicrous to many people. But one positive thing to come out of the coronavirus lockdowns is access to more at-home healthcare services.
Home blood collection and self-testing are increasingly common, and the obvious benefits abound. At-home testing can be more private, convenient, faster, and easier than traditional testing in a healthcare setting. Research has also found that people may be more willing to undergo the testing they need if they can do so in the comfort of their homes (Kersh, 2021).
Here’s everything you need to know about at-home testing.
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How do blood tests at home work?
The process is pretty simple. In some cases, the testing service or company will send you a collection kit in the mail, or you may also be able to buy the testing kit in a pharmacy or store.
Once you have your kit, you’ll follow the instructions and use the included tools to collect your blood sample. In most cases, you’ll then package things up and send them out for testing at an FDA-certified lab. But there are now some types of testing you can complete yourself at home (at-home COVID-19 testing is one example).
In most cases, everything you need—including the prepaid packaging for mailing back your samples—comes together in the same box. If you have to send your samples away for testing, you’ll be able to access your lab test results online or on your phone. There’s no need for a visit to a clinic or lab.
Researchers have found that most people are comfortable collecting their own blood and saliva and feel confident that they can do the job right. Studies have also found that self-collected samples are generally usable for send-away or at-home testing (Valentine-Graves, 2020).
How you’ll collect your blood sample
If you’re wondering exactly how you’ll collect your blood, there are a few common techniques.
One is known as finger-prick dried blood spot collection, which involves poking a tiny hole in your finger using a sharp tool called a lancet. Once blood starts to drip from your fingertip, you’ll let these drops fall onto a special collection card. Once dried, you send this card in for testing.
Some types of tests require liquid blood samples. For these, you will likely still use a finger-prick lancet, but rather than dripping your blood onto a collection card, you’ll fill a small plastic tube or container (don’t worry, it’s still a small amount of blood).
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What types of at-home testing kits are available?
Some private companies have relied on at-home saliva or blood collection for years. For example, many genetic-testing services that use saliva samples work this way.
But more recently, healthcare providers—including some hospitals and health systems—have started using at-home collections to assess everything from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and syphilis, to HIV and hepatitis C infections (Kersh, 2021; Prinsenberg, 2020).
The list of available at-home testing services is growing all the time. Some of the types of tests you can now take at home include:
- Women’s fertility health test
- Pregnancy test at home
- Food allergy or sensitivity testing
- STI testing
- Screening for colon cancer
- COVID-19 infection testing
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing
- Metabolic health testing
- Hormone testing
- Nutrient deficiency testing, such as testing for vitamin D deficiency
- Thyroid-function testing
- Cholesterol or lipid testing
- Cardiovascular (heart health) testing
- Diabetes (blood sugar or blood glucose) testing
- Anemia testing
Bear in mind that the regulations on at-home blood testing may differ from state to state. The lab you order your kit from should be able to share that information with you.
Dos and don’ts of doing a lab test at home
First and foremost, be sure to read all the instructions before you start the test. Every test kit will have slightly different instructions, and you should follow each step carefully. You’ll want to set aside plenty of time for the test so that you’re not tempted to rush through it—doing so could invalidate your test.
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Make sure that you’re following any special instructions included in your test. For example, some hormone tests may require that you fast for eight hours before taking the test, and certain blood tests need to be done first thing in the morning.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, remember that lab testing is most valuable when it’s accompanied by advice from your healthcare provider. The convenience of getting information about your health from the comfort of your own home is great—just don’t forget to follow up with your healthcare provider about what that information means for you (and treatments if appropriate).
Just know that some medical professionals believe that certain forms of at-home testing—such as sports performance genetic testing—may be harmfully misleading. They may want to order additional testing from a lab they trust (Webborn, 2015).
- Bates, M. (2018). Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: is the public ready for simple, at-home DNA tests to detect disease risk?. IEEE Pulse, 9(6), 11–14. doi:10.1109/MPUL.2018.2869315. Retrieved from https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/8538910
- Karp, D. G., Danh, K., Espinoza, N. F., et al. (2020). A serological assay to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in at-home collected finger-prick dried blood spots. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 20188. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-76913-6. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-76913-6
- Kersh, E. N., Shukla, M., Raphael, B. H., et al. (2021). At-home specimen self-collection and self-testing for sexually transmitted infection screening demand accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic: a review of laboratory implementation issues. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 59(11). doi:10.1128/JCM.02646-20. Retrieved from https://journals.asm.org/doi/pdf/10.1128/JCM.02646-20
- Prinsenberg, T., Rebers, S., Boyd, A., et al. (2020). Dried blood spot self-sampling at home is a feasible technique for hepatitis C RNA detection. PloS One, 15(4), e0231385. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0231385. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0231385
- Valentine-Graves, M., Hall, E., Guest, J. L., et al. (2020). At-home self-collection of saliva, oropharyngeal swabs and dried blood spots for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis and serology: Post-collection acceptability of specimen collection process and patient confidence in specimens. PloS One, 15(8), e0236775. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0236775. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0236775
- Webborn, N., Williams, A., McNamee, M., et al. (2015). Direct-to-consumer genetic testing for predicting sports performance and talent identification: Consensus statement. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(23), 1486–1491. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095343. Retrieved from https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/23/1486.short
Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.