How Traditional Health Diagnostics are Being Disrupted for the Better Today
As deadly and horrible as the COVID pandemic has been, as a society we’ve seen these sorts of disruptions to public life and productivity before. The roughly 7 million death toll of COVID, while devastating, is thankfully only a fraction of 50 million killed worldwide by the flu pandemic of 1918.
Still, COVID has had some unprecedented effects on the health system, partly by spurring on development of new and improved health diagnostics options the world had never seen. There was something novel in the way organizations rose to meet the challenges of COVID and respiratory testing, and the methods they used are now being extended to gastrointestinal testing, testing for lyme disease, genetics and much more.
In the old days, for testing you’d have to schedule a doctor visit a couple weeks or even months out, go into the office, sit and wait (often for lengthy times), get referred to a specialist,and then go to a testing center to check for a variety of illnesses. Now, you can get same-day, highly-accurate results for many tests without that first and/or specialist visit, and associated co-pays. Once you have your result you can then share it with your doctor to better inform prescriptive advice. Because many health diagnostics are now available with modern, rapid point-of-care diagnostics with accuracy essentially equivalent to standard lab analysis, the average person will increasingly be able to take advantage of getting a quicker diagnosis and peace of mind at a considerably affordable cost.
This is all the more necessary at the moment as a major staffing shortage continues to devastate the healthcare industry. In fact, by 2034, the U.S. could have a staffing shortage of at least around 38,000 physicians or as high as 124,000 physicians. Rhode Island, Arizona, California, and many other states are actively working to turn around the trend, with limited success up to now, making it even harder to get a visit to your primary care physician or fast care in emergency rooms. These facts mean it’s up to you to be your own best healthcare advocate.
Let’s take a brief look at how the pandemic turned the health diagnostics world upside down, the different ways health diagnostics and consumers have benefited today, and how you can better take control of your own healthcare.
A new achievement in medical R&D
When the pandemic started, scientific authorities and organizations had to quickly develop an accurate test that could detect even small amounts of a highly transmissible virus. And that’s just what they did.
Of course, the early days were rocky. The earliest tests from the CDC were faulty, and although later tests that came from the commercial sector were soon approved by the FDA under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), testing suffered from supply chain issues and accuracy problems and because they were marketed by “big-pharma” and authorities in a manner inconsistent to EUA guidance. Soon after, academic laboratories got involved in the testing endeavor, fast-tracking the way to accurate, widely-usable COVID tests.
Universities were at the forefront of testing and research, developing highly-accurate PCR tests that remain the gold standard for COVID testing. For example, Arizona State University developed the first saliva-based COVID-19 PCR test that was publicly available in the United States – which unfortunately often took ~3-4 days to return results. The less-accurate but more accessible and cost-efficient “rapid home antigen” tests were also distributed throughout the United States. While these tests had worryingly low accuracy, they also presented a way to diagnose a viral illness faster than ever before. In time, the commercial sector also developed considerably faster PCR tests, and considerably more accurate antigen tests, and began to make the tests much more widely available.
Considering the supply chain issues and other problems the U.S. faced during early days of the pandemic, the move from inaccurate and slow testing, to the tests of today – including 30-minute PCR tests and 12-minute high-accuracy microfluidics (M-Ag) tests – has been a significant change. And even though the U.S. government may declare the end of the public health emergency in May, there are still plenty of reasons for us to explore new testing and health diagnostics methods, as well as technologies for diseases that are constantly with us that will deliver the certainty we require. This is especially true when nearly 500 people in the U.S. continue to die from Covid each day, and the threat of long-COVID looms large.
Trends for modern health diagnostics
Medical technology has advanced greatly since the start of the pandemic just a couple years ago, and the benefits have gone beyond efficient COVID testing.
Testing at home
The pandemic spurred on both the development of home testing and the FDA’s approval of such tests for widespread use. While home test accuracy has had challenges, especially early on, more accurate home testing will dominate health diagnostics going forward. In fact, home healthcare in general is a growing movement, and the Hospital at Home trend is rapidly gaining traction.
For example, you can now test for your stomach and gut issues, like lactose intolerance, from your own home by just ordering a test on-line and sending the sample back to the lab for verifiable high accuracy results. The same goes for tests like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), sucrose intolerance, fructose malabsorption, and more.
Higher accuracy testing than ever before
In the early days of COVID-19, most people relied on home antigen tests that were later shown to considerably underperform when they were used in a one-off manner. With accuracy levels as low as just 36% in asymptomatic cases, we’ve learned these tests need to be used on a strict regime of serial testing to approach anything like PCR-level accuracy. Unfortunately testing like the FDA EUA requires, 3 times, 48 hours apart, is just not practical. But the need to sacrifice accuracy for speed has shifted. High-accuracy lab-verified microfluidics tests can return results in just 12 minutes with PCR-comparable accuracy.
In the same way, breath tests with modern analyzers are the gold standard in the diagnosis of common disorders of carbohydrate metabolism and absorption, like lactose intolerance and SIBO. They return rapid results and are very reliable. They require careful preparation to avoid false positives. Instead of multiple doctor visits or settling for a vague IBS diagnosis, it’s now possible to test for some common causes of gastro symptoms and get certainty within 24 hours.
Faster results than ever before
When the pandemic began, highly-accurate PCR tests were problematic because they required lab verification and could take days to return results. With the increasingly short time tests require to return results, a wide variety of illnesses like RSV, flu, strep throat, and of course COVID, can be diagnosed in minutes instead of days or weeks.
Many gastro illnesses can also be diagnosed the same day. Or with home tests, they can be diagnosed within a day from the time a lab receives the results. Not to mention that digital technology allows you to receive results on your phone or computer, so you can go through the whole process of getting a diagnosis and even use telehealth to get a prescription without an extra in-person, long-delayed visit to your doctor.
The world of health diagnostics has changed since the start of the pandemic, and many of those changes are permanent and positive. AllClear Healthcare is at the forefront of personalized health diagnostics innovation with respiratory, lyme, common blood chemistries, STI/STD and gastrointestinal tests that provide fast, accurate results. Contact us to learn more about our home gastro tests and walk-in, or event, respiratory test options.