Acceleration or Accuracy? Perhaps Both?

In today’s high functioning society, time equates to money, thereby equating efficiency to success. Whether it be in the sector of finance, education, development or even relationships, the ability to accomplish the task-at-hand in a lesser amount of time will always prove to be the most favorable outcome. But when it comes to medical care, can “efficiency” exist without jeopardizing accuracy? Surging technological advancements throughout the past decade have certainly revolutionized all aspects of modern healthcare, as we know it; enhanced genomic sequencing, rapid laboratory testing procedures and virtual reality tutorials for healthcare professionals are just a few of the many examples of technological developments which have reduced the time required for disease detection, diagnosis and medical training. Perhaps one of the most rapidly evolving branches within modern healthcare is the field of self-diagnostics; in which technological developments aid patients to independently discern a particular illness or condition, often completely eliminating the intermediate process of consulting with a physician. In light of the current viral outbreak of COVID-19, the release of mobile viral testing kits are paramount examples of individualized diagnostic advancements. 

The concept of the mobile test kit had originally been authorized by the FDA in late April; however mobile testing was strictly available to only those individuals displaying distinct symptoms of the viral infection. Since then, the FDA has extended approval for mobile testing to be accessible to all individuals, whether symptomatic or not. The broadened niche is certainly inspiring many hungry biotech companies to release their own, customized testing kits, in efforts to compete in this novel market of public health. While corporate branding may vary, fundamentally, each kit functions the same way: by conducting an RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction) analysis upon a sample submitted by the customer (1). This process works by converting the unique genetic component of the virus, which known as RNA, into DNA. Because this viral DNA is present in very small amounts, it is amplified – or copied – thousands of times within the lab. The larger quantities of the viral DNA allow for quicker and more accurate detection of the virus (3). 

The real time RT-PCR analysis can deliver reliable results in as short as three hours. On average, however, it takes between 6 to 8 hours to complete the testing, adequately (3). Needless to say, having reliable results available in less than 24 hours is tremendously efficient.

How does the process work? Most testing kits follow a simple, 5-step method for diagnosis. Firstly, test kits are ordered online, typically through the website of the provider. Since mobile test kits are an extremely new and trending phenomenon, needless to say that the high demand for such an efficient and convenient diagnosis has limited the availability of kits. It is for this reason that many companies still require customers to complete an “online” assessment or screening, in efforts to provide testing primarily for the ill individuals who need it most. Kits are shipped to the home address of the customer, along with an itemized order receipt which can be used for reimbursement from insurance providers or health coverage. 

So here’s what you can expect upon receipt of your kit: a gentle lower nasal swab, accurate PCR lab analysis, online results within 24 – 72 hours and an official lab report provided (1). The second step is a self-collected sample which is conducted by the customer. The customer is provided with a set of detailed instructions to perform a thorough nasal swab. The customer then returns the collected sample, via post, for lab analysis. Most companies offer live updates for tracking shipments, including emails, text message alerts and geographic tracking through corporate websites and apps. The fourth step entails waiting, while RT-PCR analysis is conducted within the lab. Typically results are available for the customer within 24-72 hours, upon arrival of the sample within the laboratory. Lastly, once completed, results are securely made available to customers online, along with an officiated lab report describing analysis. 

Simplicity and outstanding efficiency are certainly two of the key benefits of mobile testing kits. Other advantages include convenience, immediacy, affordability – most test kits range between $100 to $150 dollars, which is often included in health coverage – and the opportunity for potentially ill individuals to receive diagnosis within isolation of their homes, thereby restricting viral spread. 

Yet, the tremendous potential seems to equally balance with the worrisome peril of the testing kits. Perhaps one of the most common concerns is the margin for error in self-collected sampling. While detailed instructions are provided, it is uncertain whether or not customers will adhere appropriately. Moreover, if a customer is using the test kit for medical clearance relating to employment, education, travel, etc. he or she may be tempted to manipulate sample collection in hopes to receive a negative result. Because of this, there is a growing trend of skepticism regarding reliability of test kits. Usage of testing kits is currently not permitted within the states of New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Other states have restricted usage for customers who are under the age of 18, in efforts to reduce the potential for error during sample collection. Privacy may also be threatened, as concerned customers risk exposure of personal and biological data. 

The key takeaway is that while Covid-19 mobile testing kits contribute tremendous efficiency, convenience and simplicity to the field of diagnostics, they should be used with awareness and caution. 

If you do decide to try the mobile test kit, here a few suggestions to endorse a favorable experience. First, be sure to look for a brand which has specifically been authorized by the FDA. Many establishments are releasing individualized test kits, some of which do not have FDA approval. Ratings, reviews and testimonials from customers and organizations who have used the test kit can be helpful in selecting which brand to go with. Be sure to adhere to all guidelines for the sample-collection to strengthen accuracy of your results. If testing Is required for clearance relating to travel, the workplace, etc., don’t wait until the last minute; remember that delays and errors can – and do – occur throughout postage and shipment processes. Lastly, be mindful that with all technology, the potential for error exists and while results may be trusted, it is always a good idea to verify the diagnosis. 

With a growing industry and increasing experiences, we can remain optimistic that the future of mobile test kits will continue to improve and serve as valuable innovations in the sectors of medical diagnoses and public health. Frequent testing remains essential as more businesses and industries look to re-open amidst the middle of an aggressive viral pandemic. Increasing the availability and convenience of testing is key to attaining this, and as it appears, mobile test kits are certainly leading us in the right direction.