Top 4 blood tests ordered by doctors – what you need to know as a consumer

December 5, 2018

Here’s a quick overview of the top blood tests your doctor might order on your next office visit. We’ve also included information that could help you save money on blood tests, just remember to ask your doctor for details. Alight’s Compass healthcare navigation services are also a useful way to have your questions answered about your healthcare costs. 

  1. Lipid Panel – test for cholesterol. This screening involves several components:
  • Total cholesterol
  • HDL-high density lipoprotein-the ‘good’ cholesterol
  • LDL-low density lipoprotein-the ‘bad’ cholesterol
  • Triglycerides-essentially fat globules in the blood

Of note, the HDL + the LDL does not = Total Cholesterol. There is another type of cholesterol as well called VLDL that is part of the equation, but that is beyond the scope of this post. 

This blood test must be taken while fasting in order to be accurate. A good time to have your blood drawn is in the morning and don’t eat or drink anything except water after midnight from the night before.  This includes creamer in coffee. Creamer in coffee will completely throw off these numbers.  Cost of the test—about $200.

  1. BMP (also called a Chem 7) – test for:
  • Electrolyte level (Sodium, Potassium, others)
  • Kidney function (Creatinine and BUN)
  • Blood glucose (sugar, it is often elevated in uncontrolled or undiagnosed Diabetes).

Of note, if the kidney function numbers are abnormal, they should be compared to other kidney function numbers taken at a different time—i.e., you will need your current results compared to prior results, or you will need to have your blood drawn again for comparison purposes.

Like the Lipid Panel above, often this blood test is done while fasting—but it does not have to be. The results have to be interpreted a little differently depending on whether the person has eaten or not. Cost of the test—about $100.

  1. CMP (also called a Chem 12) – this test is a more extensive version of a BMP and includes the same parts—plus liver function tests.  Often CMPs are not necessary, so it is usually more cost effective to do a BMP. Ask your doctor about your options.  Cost of the test—about $250. 
  1. CBC (Complete Blood Count) – this is test of:
  • Red blood cells (carry oxygen)
  • White blood cells (fight infection)
  • Platelets (help form clots to stop bleeding).

Anemia (low red blood cell count) is most often measured by this test. The most common cause of anemia is low iron level from slow blood loss. The most common causes of slow blood loss are menstruation and slow bleeding from the stomach/intestines/rectum. Either could be from very mild and benign underlying conditions or more serious causes, so be sure and consult your doctor with any questions. This test does not require the person to be fasting. Cost of the test—about $150.

It is very common for a primary care physician to order tests 1 + either 2 or 3 + 4 altogether. So if the doctor says, ‘I’m going to order some blood work for you,’ know that it could cost upwards of $600. It is also important to note that if you are on a PPO insurance plan and have an office visit copay (say for $25), the blood tests are not necessarily included as part of the copay. In other words, the visit may cost you the $25 copay + $600 for lab work.  If you are on an HSA plan or another type of consumer-directed health plan, then the blood work will cost you in addition to the office visit. For example, the office visit may cost $80 + $600 for lab work.

Some important takeaways are:

  1. Is the blood test really necessary? (often times it is not, ask your doctor).

  2. Can the blood test be ordered in a more cost-effective way? (if you just order the individual parts of the above tests, it is less expensive. e.g., Just ordering total cholesterol, just ordering blood glucose).

  3. Is the blood test going to be run in the office and included as part of your office visit copay or is it going to be sent to an outside lab? (In which case it probably not be included in your office visit copay).

  4. What lab is it going to be sent to and how much will that lab cost? (It might even be out of network).

If you pay attention to your blood work, you can receive the high-quality care you need and do so in a way that won’t break your budget.

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