Our patients deserve better..." It is in these terms that the French Union for Free Medicine (UFML) pointed the finger at the methods of the Synlab medical analysis laboratory, after the group distributed flyers, in the form of small cards to offer, to extol the merits of these screenings and other blood tests. In a press release, the union "denounces in the strongest possible terms the marketing by the Synlab group of biological balance cards, available for purchase and without a prescription (menopause, thyroid, fatigue, etc.)". Amercantile drift that insidiously takes advantage of the medical shortage" according to the UFML Syndicate, evoking "a contempt for doctors, who prescribe their check-ups after a clinical examination, in a relevant, reasoned and responsible manner". "Our patients deserve better than this marketing of non-prescription check-ups, non-reimbursed biological examinations carried out without an assessment of their interest," he said.
A strong reaction to the marketing of these screenings - most of which are reimbursed by social security provided that you have a prescription and therefore have gone to see a doctor first - which also caused a reaction on X (ex-Twitter). "So, don't worry, the international company Synlab offers cards like Wonderbox, but for biological health checks... Financialization taken to a stratospheric level," says the first doctor. "Can't find a doctor? Synlab has thought of you and is launching its gift cards for Christmas! Thyroid menopause... You're spoilt for choice: drop off at the foot of the tree with a Ramsay subscription," says another ironically. "Did you expect anything else? Healthcare professionals are gradually losing their practice structures to HECs. It's a reality. Everyone let it happen," replied one Internet user, implying that medical analysis laboratories were driven more by the desire to make numbers than by the desire to treat.
'A framework provided for by law'
For Synlab, the European leader in medical biology services, this accusation of intent is incomprehensible. This network of 400 medical analysis laboratories and subsidiary of the group in France ensures that "this device has existed since 2018". "Why is the union offended? Frankly, it's hard to understand. We know that we are acting within the framework of the law, no more, no less," the insider continues. The group claims to be within its rights, by only "facilitating access" to medical tests and allowing more people "to access prevention".
In addition, it recalls that "the patient is free" and "always has the right to go to a doctor first if he prefers". According to Synlab, this process of distributing flyers is nothing more than a method of "communication" like any other. "There is no such thing as a 'gift card' for a biological assessment. This amalgam made by the UFMLS is false: each assessment is effectively materialized by a "balance sheet" that only needs to be presented to the medical secretariat to designate the type of analysis desired. The card is then put back on its display. The patient does not take it and cannot offer it under any circumstances," the group continues.
It is "an information and access service to health prevention provided by analysis laboratories and a provision of advice and guidance to the biologist, within a framework provided for by law", defends the group, which recalls that "any patient who wishes to do a biological test can request it from any laboratory and obtain it, without a prescription". In this context, the group confirms that it "acts fully within the framework of the health missions of a laboratory by facilitating access to prevention for all patients concerned", insists on the fact that "access to prevention for all and the expansion of access to screening mechanisms is one of the priority areas of the Ministry of Health" and carries the ambition "to work hand in hand with the medical profession, to allow as many people as possible to access prevention and to be reoriented, early in the care pathway".
In addition, Dr. Florian Scherrer, the group's medical director, is keen to point out that "pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STI) prevention check-ups account for the vast majority of check-ups carried out, at more than 80%". However, according to him, "saving time for a subsequent medical consultation can be valuable for decision-making or slowing down a chain of STI transmission, for example". As proof, according to this doctor, "the testing of HIV without a prescription, first in laboratories in Paris and Alpes-Maritimes, from 2018, before its generalization by the public authorities throughout the country, in January 2022, reminds us, if necessary, of the need to know how to change patients' pathways in certain cases".
Informed by the UFML Syndicate, the National Council of the Order of Physicians speaks of a "fundamental problem related to the excesses of medicine", these "false good ideas that we see flourishing everywhere" such as "gondolas in train stations". "Here, we're dealing with offers in the form of cards that look very much like gift cards (...) It looks very much like advertising. However, I have the weakness to believe it, but medicine is not a business," says Jean Canarelli, ordinal advisor and president of the biology commission of the National Council of the Order of Physicians. According to him, one should not enter a medical laboratory like "one would go to the supermarket to buy a box of chocolates". He concluded: "Of course, a patient is free to ask for a cardiovascular check-up if he or she has any doubts, for example, but the results can falsely reassure him or her (...) And the risk would then be to miss out on a real diagnosis."