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At-home women’s healthcare trend: good or bad?

April 27, 2009

By keito

As time goes on, women’s health issues are being addressed more and more within the comfort of a woman’s own home.  Adding on to this is a recent expansion of the over the counter availability of the Plan B “Morning-After Pill” to include 17 year-olds, and a new, well-advertised at-home fertility test for women.

Are increasing home health options for women a good thing, like product ads would like us to believe?  Evaluating your own health using generic tests at home, or taking a drug without at least reading up on it, are two things that can easily result in misconceptions about or even damages to your own health and wellbeing.

Using at home fertility kits to evaluate fertility, for example, is kind of like saying that because you can pick up a basketball you can be a basketball player.  First Response’s at-home fertility evaluation kit features a big asterisk that says the kit only tests levels of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), which would indicate release of an egg, and not whether there are physical obstructions or other factors that could prevent pregnancy.  In a sense, it gives you the first few pencil marks on a sheet of paper, not the whole picture.

Home tests like First Response’s, however, can be a way for women to start a health-evaluation on their own terms.  When ABC News reported in 2007 on the fertility kit Fertell, which evaluates both a man and a woman’s fertility using an FSH test, they quoted Dr. Harry Fisch from the Columbia University Medical Center as saying that FSH “is the first test we look for when a woman comes for an evaluation…This test is not a guarantee that you’re fertile or not.  But it’s a great start.”

The same goes for at-home tests that can detect vaginal infections: a litmus test of the vagina shows the pH levels, which may or may not indicate some kind of infection.  As Tracee Cornforth writes on About.com, “you should know that not all vaginal infections cause changes to vaginal pH. This means that having a normal vaginal pH test does not mean that you do not have a vaginal infection.” In most cases, a visit to the doctor would still be necessary for an accurate answer.

Well, thanks for nothing!

The positive side of at-home evaluations like these is that it can give women a sense of control and privacy when it comes to their own health and bodies.  A false sense, perhaps, since a doctor should be the one evaluating your health and fertility, and regular check-ups are necessary, for women and for men, to catch problems before they turn into health catastrophes.  There’s absolutely nothing private about a person’s health when they choose to handle it responsibly.

However, a woman who habitually visits her gynecologist because of infections might find the home pH test for infections useful, because some treatments are also available over the counter.  And suppose you are trying to get pregnant: can you imagine having to go to the doctor every time you wanted to take a pregnancy test?  That would be ridiculous, and quite frankly your doctor doesn’t want to see you that often, either.

So what about the prescription-free Plan B?  There are certainly a lot of women who would prefer to try taking the drug, which can prevent fertilization, delay ovulation or prevent the uterine implantation of an egg that has been fertilized, than to face either of the options available if she does become pregnant.  Though pregnancy and abortion are hotly contested polar opposites, what they do have in common is that both require visits to the doctor.

What if a doctor visit isn’t possible for the woman, especially in a time period where many are losing or have lost their jobs and health insurance?  Isn’t it still important to have a certain standard of healthcare available?

Though at-home tests and treatments can be downright critical when a woman lacks insurance, the flipside is that, despite our being in a malpractice age, where the word of a doctor is not the gold standard like it was for our grandparents, medical professionals still (generally) know best — even if you have to get a second opinion or two now and then.

If at home treatments and evaluations are an alternative to no evaluations or treatments at all, then, taking them for what they are as a whole (i.e. ignoring any personal objections, preferences or experiences), they can’t be a completely bad thing.  The theory behind it is actually almost good.  It’s just the practice that could use some work.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a country where some degree of healthcare is always available, regardless of insurance or financial status.  At-home health care may not be the best thing, but it can be better than nothing at all.

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4 Comments
  1. April 27, 2009 10:06 pm

    I can see both sides…privacy on one and the need to be thorough on the other. But it would depend on the symptom/condition. I don’t think we’ll ever remove the need to have a professional’s opinion as they have seen many occurances of the symptoms. Like Candid for example, I read so many instances where nothing has been able to cure it. This left un-cured can be very dangerous. A doctors visit in this case is essential.

  2. Julienne permalink
    June 8, 2009 10:42 am

    This is such an important topic, Keito. Pregnancy tests are unobtrusive, but overuse of medication can be detrimental. To include medical professionals along the way (maybe not at EVERY step) is key.

    Your mention of ads is interesting. Have you noticed that, while the different drug companies battle to have their product come out on top, their main selling point is “no acne”? As if fewer breakouts are the only thing of concern to a woman! Unforunately, I know people who have considered taking the pill not for its intended use, but for clearer skin.

  3. keito permalink*
    June 8, 2009 5:39 pm

    I saw a birth control pill ad not too long ago clearing up some of their claims — including that it was only for treatment of SEVERE acne, rather than the occasional breakout, and to treat PMDD rather than your average PMS. On the other hand, I know lots of women who take the pill because their symptoms, though not necessarily PMDD, were difficult to deal with and just generally disruptive. And I also have a friend who can’t take the pill because it gives her very disruptive symptoms!

    That being said, I used to see a lot of specialists when I was younger, for things I either grew out of or are now figured out (and it took a while to get to that point), so I know how difficult it is to be going to doctors and getting tests done constantly! It does make me appreciate my privacy, because it’s such an invasive feeling. What I really feel is the issue, though, is that people needed to be treated more like people and not like patients or medical cases — maybe then there wouldn’t be such a market for at home treatments and diagnoses!

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