At-home triage: Tools for a virtual diagnosis
POSTED : December 14, 2020
BY : Claire Baron

How many times have you ignored or pushed off an urgent care situation? What if you could get a virtual diagnosis at home instead of traveling to a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital?

Recently, we’ve all had the same concern: Is this the common sore throat or is this Covid-19? Why should you run the risk of possibly being exposed or exposing someone when a swab test is something that can be done at home? All too often, a fear of exposure is leading individuals to postpone healthcare visits.

swabs

While some patients and providers might express reticence around an individual’s ability to properly administer a nasal swab exam, a recent Stanford study found that patients can be taught to properly do their own nasal swabs for accurate COVID-19 testing. Similarly, a 2016 study found that 93% of parents were able to properly conduct a throat swab test for strep on their children. At-home testing is not only more convenient for patients, it also reduces the risk of exposing medical workers to extremely contagious conditions.

Virtual diagnosis: An easier, safer, and faster form of care

Imagine a world with fewer doctor visits but better care. In this not so distant future, your provider easily orders a rapid at-home test to be delivered to your home for conditions like the flu, Covid-19, and strep throat. Upon receipt of the test, you either video chat with a provider or watch a recorded instructional video to ensure you properly administer the swab test. Once the test is completed, you notify your provider to ensure that a medical courier promptly picks up the test to be processed. Upon processing, your provider quickly shares your results and outlines next steps either through your care portal or via a virtual diagnosis visit. Your provider then virtually provides you with care instructions and guidance for how you should schedule a follow-up visit and begin your personalized care plan based on your diagnosis.

Looking forward: How Covid-19 might catalyze at-home healthcare

Already, this future state of care has been realized: the Seattle Flu Study, which is research study not medical care, delivers and pick-ups rapid test-kits to participants’ homes, and a recent piece in the New York Times highlighted the FDA’s approval of the first prescribed at-home Covid-19 test. Medical companies, including 4MD Medical and Tiger Medical, sell at-home strep tests for patients, but most mainstream medical providers do not provide their patients with the option to self-test for strep at home

The current pandemic has catalyzed a shift in normalizing at-home testing. Prior to Covid-19, the FDA had approved home-use tests for nine different qualitative and quantitative healthcare measures, including cholesterol, Hepatitis C, and Pregnancy. While biomedical companies have marketed a roster of at-home diagnostic kits, very few have been approved by the FDA, and thus very few are eligible for insurance reimbursement. Covid-19 has strained the US healthcare system, and the FDA has acknowledged the need for increased access to Covid-19 testing by approving nine different companies for their at-home Covid-19 tests. While FDA test approval has been issued under an emergency order, it is possible that the flu, strep, and other easily diagnosed conditions will shift to at-home testing.

As virtual diagnosis continues to become the norm in the age of Covid-19, self-administered diagnostic kits may soon emerge as a logical extension of virtual care. This expansion of virtual triage to include a diagnosis is an important development in telehealth—in addition to reducing medical and patient risk of exposure to contagious conditions, at-home triage has the potential to lower barriers to healthcare for certain sub-segments of patients.

urine sample

Today, patients can conveniently schedule a virtual visit with a provider from their home but are required to go in-person to receive a diagnostic test to identify how their care plan should evolve. For many patients, the option to self-administer a diagnostic test at home may radically change the amount of care they are able to access. At-home diagnostic kits lower barriers to access for these patient sub-segments and the extension of virtual care into diagnostic territory has the potential to significantly improve health outcomes for a large population that is currently underserved by the traditional brick and mortal healthcare system.

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About the authors

Claire BaronClaire Baron serves as a consultant in PK’s Strategy CoE. She has worked with a wide variety of clients including Skechers, ServiceNow, Microsoft, and the Endowment for Equal Justice. With a background in the public sector, she is passionate about helping organizations create experiences that promote value for society.

Sarah DodgeSarah Dodge is an experience designer at PK, where she specializes in new product ideation, identifying new marketing opportunities, and UX/UI designs for websites and applications.

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