Is HealthFair or Life Line Screening Worth the Money?
Is HealthFair or Life Line Screening worth your money? Both groups offer similar screening packages. Using an ultrasound machine, they scan the public for peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, carotid artery disease, and aortic aneurysms. For more advanced packages, HealthFair will also do blood work which can include testosterone, high sensitivity c-reactive protein, PSA (prostate specific antigen), and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).
Is it worth it? Medically speaking, no.
If you have no symptoms of leg pain with walking, shortness of breath, or symptoms of a stroke or mini-stroke, then the chance you will find something medically important is low. Except for aortic aneurysm screening, which should occur in men between age 65 to 75 who have ever smoked 10 packs or more of cigarettes, there continues to be NO evidence that ultrasound testing for these conditions actually results in better outcomes, particularly in patients who have NO symptoms. Again for men between 65 to 75 years old who have ever smoked 10 packs or more of cigarettes, you should have an ultrasound for aortic aneurysm screening. That is covered by insurance so why pay out of pocket?
For peripheral vascular disease screening, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in September 2013 made a recommendation I. This means insufficient evidence to determine the risk or benefit of screening. The technique used is called the ankle-brachial index (ABI). It is using ultrasound to determine if there is a difference in blood flow from the arms (brachial) and the legs (ankle). This is what the USPSTF reviewed and what HealthFair and Life Line use in their testing. Again, for patients who do not have leg or foot pain with activity, lack of pulses on the top of the foot, history of smoking or other circulation problems like heart disease, stroke, these this particular test has no evidence that it is helpful.
For heart disease screening, USPSTF noted recommendation I in October 2009 when using non-traditional risk factors. This includes ABI as listed above, as well as high sensitivity c-reactive protein.
For carotid artery disease, the USPSTF recommends against any screening in July 2014 as a recommendation D. This means harms from screening, even though a painless ultrasound, is outweighed by future testing.
So medically speaking there is no evidence these save lives.
Yet from a marketing point of view, this offer is tempting. They offer a “great” deal. An all in one package. A “good” price for peace of mind.
These tests are a way for hospitals to improve their “brand” and name recognition in the community.
A 2013 Washington Post / Kaiser Health News report noted that:
“Inova Health System, one of the Washington, D.C., region’s largest hospital networks, is partnering with a screening company called HealthFair to blanket the region with direct mail and advertisements promoting a $139 package of what it describes as “five life-saving tests for heart disease and stroke.” The tests, which usually are not covered by insurance, are performed in specially equipped buses, operated by HealthFair, that carry the Inova logo and travel to different locations…
Inova doesn’t pocket anything from the testing; in fact, it pays HealthFair to put the Inova logo on the buses. But patients can sign a form allowing someone from the hospital group to contact them to discuss abnormal findings, and a list of Inova doctors is available on the buses.
“It’s a way to promote brand awareness and have someone sitting there who can say, ‘I have just the doctor for you,’ ” said Mitch Morris, of Deloitte, a consulting firm whose clients include hospitals. “If they hook someone up with a primary care physician, that sets up in many cases a lifetime of patronage to that health system.”
A consumer group called on hospitals across the USA to stop “fear mongering” by marketing health screenings directly to patients. Public Citizen says the low-cost tests — advertised for what appear to be “bargain basement” prices — often lead to expensive and even risky follow-up exams…
HealthFair advertises a $179 basic package of four cardiovascular tests — including echocardiograms and carotid artery ultrasounds — which it says are “valued at $2,300.” Patients with suspicious results could end up receiving follow-up tests that cost 10 to 100 times that much, says Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.
“That $179 may seem like a bargain, but zero dollars would be the real bargain,” Carome says. “You don’t need to spend any money on these tests unless you fit into a very narrow population, and no one needs to be screened with six at once.”
Bottom line. If you aren’t sure if you need any of these tests, check with your doctor.
If you are concerned about your risk for peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, carotid artery disease, or aortic aneurysm, make an appointment and discuss with her your concerns. Traditional risk factors include already having one of the listed illnesses, being a smoker, or having diabetes.
As Dr. Steven Nissen, chief of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic noted:
The only tests that an average person needs are simple and cheap, Nissen says. These include measuring their weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol.
My final thoughts.
These types of screenings are simply a sign of the times. You will be offered more screening tests, blood work, and options that are not recommended by your doctor but by others. These will be marketed like other goods and service we buy whether televisions or coffee. The only problem with these particular tests at this time is that there is no scientific proof or evidence that these save lives especially in patients who have no symptoms.