Public urged to see doctor rather than making diagnosis based on test results alone Health checks directly promoted by laboratories without any medical advice can result in unnecessary examinations and even health hazards, doctors have warned. The Hong Kong Medical Association has issued a stern warning over the direct sale of health check-up packages, promoted through leaflet mailings or by telephone. Some private laboratories have launched their own health-check packages, which do not require a referral from doctors, and their prices are usually lower than those referred by doctors. Services include blood and urine tests, X-rays, electrocardiograms and ultrasounds. Using a name similar to a non-governmental organisation, one company offers a HK$998 package with more than 30 tests, such as hepatitis B, uric acid and cholesterol, while a package for HK$1,988 also covers liver cancer, colon cancer and lupus. A woman at one company said a nurse could visit a consumer's home to take blood samples. She said 'a customer should take as many tests as she or he wants' because 'the price will be better'. Though the company's name is similar to a non-governmental organisation, the woman, after repeated questions, later revealed that it was a private broker for a laboratory. Two other companies also sent mail to residential tenants offering what they called 'exclusive' offers for health checks. The lawmaker representing the medical sector, Kwok Ka-ki, said: 'Poor laboratory tests without medical consultation can delay treatment. Doctors make diagnoses not only with laboratory tests, but also with clinical symptoms. Consumers should not make a diagnosis themselves with test results only.' He pointed out that under the code of practice issued by the Medical Laboratory Technologists Board, laboratory technologists should not 'perform any tests for the purpose of medical diagnosis and treatment in the absence of a referral from registered medical practitioners'. But as the board regulates individuals only, not laboratories, Dr Kwok said many laboratories might take advantage of the grey area and offer health-check packages themselves. Medical Association president Gabriel Choi Kin said people should consult their family doctors before choosing a health-check package. He said the 'comprehensive' packages provided by medical laboratories might include tests that a consumer did not really need. For example, extra X-rays can expose the consumer to the risk of radiation and it is unnecessary to have certain tests, such as for colon cancer, annually, Dr Choi said. A patient consulted Dr Choi yesterday because a health check in a laboratory indicated that he had higher levels of cholesterol than normal. The laboratory told the patient that he might have heart disease. Dr Choi explained to him that a high total level of cholesterol did not necessarily mean a higher risk of having heart disease. 'Having a health check without a proper doctor's consultation can lead to unnecessary worries,' he said. However, Marianne Leung Yang Shih-ti, chairwoman of the Association of Medical Laboratories, argued that the packages were for 'screening' rather than 'medical diagnosis and treatment'. 'People are more aware of health in recent years. We just want to help. If the tests show abnormal indications, the laboratories will suggest consulting doctors.' The Consumer Council received 11 complaints against medical laboratories last year, two more than in 2005. The complaints included dissatisfaction with the quality of service and delayed test results. A spokeswoman said the problem was not particularly serious. A spokeswoman for the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau said the requirement for proper referral was prescribed by the Medical Laboratory Technologists Board in its code of practice. Between 2002 and 2007, the board found one medical lab guilty of performing tests without a proper medical practitioner's referral. The lab concerned was reprimanded.