Lots of us study graphs in our daily lives for insight into our world – to name a few, the stock market, climate change, Donald Trump’s popularity, and the spread of COVID-19. But almost no one graphs their own health data, and no one does it for you, least of all our own MD.
My MD is enlightened and I admire and respect her. But, when she looks at a lab result, she’s looking at it in isolation. When she sees that Bilirubin was high on my Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP), she won’t remember what it was on my previous CMP. She’d have to page through my file to see that. Will she? If she does, how far back will she page through my file?
Shouldn’t she have the graph above in front of her? And what if it was annotated with comments describing circumstances in my life that might explain the changes?
It makes no sense to spend so much money, time, and effort collecting health data without capturing the insights it has to tell over time when seen graphically.
Of course, health professionals know this. A government backed study of graphical display of diagnostic test results in 2015 begins with “Accurate display and interpretation of clinical laboratory test results is essential for safe and effective diagnosis and treatment.”
So why do most of us never see a graph of our labwork? For starters, just 60% of MDs are using Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems. If your MD is one of those and you get sent out to a couple different labs for blood tests, will all the labs be electronically integrated with your doc’s EHR?
If not, will your MDs back-office input all the uncooperative data into their EHR manually? Who would pay for that work? What if you move and change doctors, will your data follow you? See all the obstacles?
That’s why it makes a lot of sense to take ownership of your own labwork data using an app. Here we’ll review some your best options for doing that.
Picnic Health “Own your health. Advance medicine.”
PicnicHealth is an impressive service and you can even give it a spin yourself without even giving up your email address by visiting their demo site. I use it personally but only take advantage of the labwork timeline and graphing. I pay $30 a month for the full suite of privileges which would allow me to have all my doctor visit notes uploaded, but I don’t bother. I just send PicnicHealth a pdf of my bloodwork, which I download from LabCorp.
Here’s what Picnic can do for you:
- Digitize all your medical records so they are searchable and can be browsed in a timeline
- Graph your lab values (as shown in the image above)
- Display your scans and xrays
Those are just three short bullets, but it’s a momentous accomplishment when you consider the value to someone:
- with complicated medical issues that sees a variety of specialists
- who moves and changes doctors
- with chronic illness persisting over a long period of time
- concerned about the high rate of medical errors in the USA
Now for the disadvantages – it’s rather expensive, unless you agree to share your medical history anonymously with the PicnicHealth research partners. That makes it free. And, that’s really all there is. Unless, you want to talk about the fact that it’s rather allopathic. It could be said that it’s more focused around your MD’s needs for information from you than your own information for improving your health.
Lab Test Analyzer “Your lab results might be normal, but are they optimal?”
I like the Lab Test Aanalyzer app for its simplicity and for it’s focus on helping you get value from your labwork beyond the “everything’s normal” most MDs will feed you even when you’re not feeling normal!
Input your lab values and the app will provide you with suggestions for diet, lifestyle and supplements based on scientific literature. Input the same labwork from different blood draws over time and you’ll get a chart showing your changes over time.
LabTestAnalyzer goes beyond the plain vanilla nonsense that a larger more allopathic company would serve up, offering a focus on common sources of chronic illness such as methylation, gut health and mold illness. Clearly, they have some real-life experiences baked into this app.
Now let’s take a look at some of the screens to give you a hands-on feel for the tools.
The screenshot above shows the beginning of the ‘Input Labs’ process. This is where we’ll start since the app is really only interesting after you’ve input some of your lab values. Both the manual and pdf upload (drag & drop) work well, with one caveat.
If you use the drag-and-drop to upload one of your labwork results in PDF format, you will want to look over the end result very carefully. I’ve uploaded twice and there is a lab value in ‘My Results’ that does not belong to me. It doesn’t appear on any of my lab tests. In fact I’ve never had it tested.
Above you’ll see the manual input screen. I found it quite easy to use, but since my labs always come from LabCorp, always contain many values, and LabCorp provides me with a PDF, I would use this manual input screen rarely, if ever.
If you do use the drag-and-drop, you will have to clean up the data, delete some rows that contain garbage and fill in some missing information here and there each time you upload a pdf. But overall, it works well and it’s much faster than the manual method when you have a large data set like a CMP.
Once you get some lab values in you will have a list of labwork values in ‘My Results’ which you can see just above. It’s going to show you the latest result if you have repeated any particular lab test more than once. Here is where you can see the mystery lab value ‘D-Arabinitol, Urine’ which I have never had tested.
All software has bugs in it and undergoes a perpetual process of debugging -> development -> debugging -> development… so, by the time you read this, in all likelihood, this particular bug will be gone.
But it raises a very important caution – an app like this can be extremely valuable, though it requires careful checking and double checking, especially before acting on any of the “information”.
Let’s click on my Bilirubin result now so you can see where the real value lies.
Here you can see my current bilirubin lab value at the top and notice that it is flagged as high. in the right column you can learn about the functions of bilirubin in the body. The bottom graph shows you that although my bilirubin is currently high, it has come down nicely over three months. But, so far it’s all rather technical. Let’s click on the ‘Health Effects’ link.
Now in the right column we can see a list of possible causes for a high bilirubin lab result. As luck would have it, my bilirubin is not high for any of the listed reasons. I’m exhorted to work with my doctor to get an accurate diagnosis. Fair enough.
This is where I’m not impressed. The information here looks like what you’d find on WebMD and 10,000 other health sites most of which probably pull their data from the same health information provider.
However, I recognize that what Lab Test Analyzer set out to do – to help me understand my labwork above and beyond what my harried MD would or would not share with me, is an enormously ambitious task and it will take time.
Finally let’s have a look at the dashboard.
This is just what you might expect, another way to view the same information we’ve seen with a little extra summary information. Overall, it’s well done and I’m sure we will see lots of improvements with time.
Know of another app we should review here? Please let us know in the comments!