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Rising Health Costs Face New Foe

Inexpensive lab tests, such as the type that checks your cholesterol level, are emerging as a major contender in the fight against rising health costs.

There is growing evidence that reducing certain preventable causes of disease and death through prevention and early detection does improve health and saves lives and money.

Research has shown that diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease can be better detected and managed through the use of laboratory medicine.

Experts point to diabetes as a prime example of the cost-savings from simple laboratory tests. Diabetes can lead to blindness, amputation, kidney failure, and heart attack costing the United States more than $170 billion each year.

But early detection and then management of diabetes, via a $13 hemoglobin A1c blood test, reduces the likelihood of peripheral artery disease, amputation and heart attack. Each of these complications costs thousands of dollars�heart attack alone costs more than $28,000.

Another example of cost savings from lab testing is chronic kidney disease, in which the filtering ability of the kidneys fails.

Chronic kidney disease can lead to damaging complications, such as cardiovascular disease, anemia, and kidney failure. But it can often be detected and controlled - even halted in many cases - through the use of two, inexpensive laboratory tests.

One test identifies excess protein in the urine; the other evaluates the functioning ability of the kidneys.

"It is clear that when diseases are detected earlier and managed better, the likelihood of expensive procedures or costly hospital stays is reduced," says Alan Mertz, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA).

"Through the use of timely testing, patients can help control their condition and live a longer, more productive life."

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of all medical decision making is influenced by laboratory tests - even though testing amounts to about 1 percent of total health spending in the United States.

As a result, members of the healthcare community are working to raise awareness of the value of laboratory medicine in taking on both the costs and the consequences of disease.

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