Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lifeline Screenings?

What are Lifeline Screenings and are they worthwhile?

I received a second notice from Lifeline Screenings, via the Georgia Farm Bureau, which handles my homeowners coverage (they are very cheap and include wind coverage - even hurricanes - in the basic policy!).

I figured since they were from the Georgia Farm Bureau, they must be pretty good, as there is an implied endorsement there.

But then I thought again.   An unsolicited piece of junk mail.   Is this a good deal?  Likely not.   And they do want $135 for these "tests:.  A quick search reveals some interesting comments about their services:

The upshot is that they use ultrasound - you know, the blobby mess you use to look at pictures of your baby in the womb.   As one of the above articles noted:
"No, I’m sorry but those are not reasons to get screened. That’s like saying that lots of people die from cancer and Life Line takes pretty photographs so I should let them take my photograph. If screening reduced morbidity and mortality, that might be a reason to get screened, but they are not claiming that. They can’t claim it, because there is no evidence to support doing these tests in the general population."
My "art" at the Patent Office included ultrasound devices, including some medical devices.   So I have to agree with these articles.  It is not clear to me that ultrasound imaging systems can take pictures with enough resolution to show a potential stroke-causing clot in your arteries, etc.   It is possible, I suppose that they may be able to find some potential problems - but it would be a very long-shot kind of deal.  If you have no symptoms of illness, why get the test?

In other words, the way this is usually done, is that you have symptoms of an illness, then you go to a doctor who then orders the proper testing.   This system provides imaging of dubious use, to patients who are healthy.

From the second article cited above, the AMA notes:
These [direct-to-consumer] companies market primarily by targeting consumer fear about undetected disease and acquiring a symptomatic, sometimes fatal, disease. … Beyond the suspect ethics of preying on consumer fears, some screening tests are suspect on evidence-based grounds.
Two other physicians, Drs. Erik Wallace and John Schumann, both associate professors of internal medicine at the University of Oklahoma’s School of Community Medicine, were even more blunt in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Tulsa World in January:
Consumers should have the freedom to spend their money as they see fit. But direct-to-consumer screening tests that offer little to no value wrapped in marketing claims of great medical benefit without disclosure of the potential risks are at best disingenuous and at worst unethical.
In other words, if you want to go, spend a few hours blowing $135, then be our guest.   But in terms of value-for-the-dollar in terms of medical diagnosis, it is a crapshoot.

How do they make money at this?   Well, the screenings are held in church basements or rec centers.  Some speculate that well-meaning groups offer this space for free, or at a steep discount, so their overhead is very low.  The testing is brief, and according to one former employee on ripoffreports, the events are packed (due to the mass-mailings) so they do a lot of tests and clear a lot of cash.  The same employee noted:
"The GREATER problem is Life Line Screening has become more of a money making machine over the years than the screening service they hope you view them as.  Employees are strongly encouraged to "upsell" tests and packages (yes selling, like a car salesman trys to "add" floormats or a DVD player to your radio)"
So, if you go, it might cost more than the $125, or $139, or whatever number they put in the junk-mailer sent to you.

Are they doing anything illegal or unethical?  The latter depends on your opinion on ethics.   From a legal standpoint, unless they are misrepresenting the value of these tests (in other words, do they really detect the diseases they claim they will?) then they might be breaking the law.   But this does not appear to be the case, at least so far.

They are doing the same old, same old, and that is selling an unnecessary service at a price that is no bargain.   And in America, that is not illegal.   It is akin to invention brokers charging you $20,000 to "Patent your invention and market it to industry" and then doing a crappy job.   They are not breaking the law, just overcharging for services you may or may not need.

 I guess, to me, the real deal is this:   It arrived in an unsolicited piece of junk-mail.  That says it all, right there.....

Just throw that crap in the trash!

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