As the pandemic-stricken health systems recover from the unprecedented challenges that tested them for preparedness, agility, and health equity, the pandemic undoubtedly also nurtured rapid innovation in telehealth, vaccine manufacturing, and point-of-care diagnostics, which have streamlined and accelerated patients’ access to immediate care at the point of need.
These technological medical advances, especially in the realm of point-of-care diagnostics, are transforming our health system in three especially important ways:
Firstly, point-of-care diagnostics present a user-friendly and less invasive alternative to traditional laboratory assay analyses and can deliver actionable results at the patient side in minutes. This alone paves the way to a future-centric patient-empowered approach to care where patients and their health providers can take preventative measures more quickly with the long-term prospect of directing costs away from later-stage treatment to early diagnosis and treatment.
Secondly, the latest diagnostic technologies feature cloud connectivity which reduces costs and risk of errors as it seamlessly transfers medical data and allows the collection of epidemiological data for surveillance systems that is crucial for containing and managing infections, outbreaks, and potential pandemics.
Thirdly, point of care diagnostics, when implemented in a community-based system, essentially decentralize health care systems reducing health inequalities by improving access for vulnerable communities across the globe.
These revolutionary benefits of point-of-care diagnostics have yet to be fully realized because they have not been scaled up to reach the most vulnerable global populations. However, clear outcome improvements are being demonstrated where they are being used. For example, a decrease in the length of hospital stay due to the reduction in time to make decisions allows more rapid triage, treatment, or discharge and workflow efficiency benefits as testing is performed at the bedside or in close proximity to the location of patient care within the clinical management setting.
The future of diagnostics is embodied in one point of care, a portable, connected device that can accurately and affordably test for multiple conditions from small patient samples such as fingerstick blood. Particularly in low-income and middle-income countries, it provides unprecedented access to care and significantly reduces travel and associated additional costs between hospitals and laboratories. Requiring minimal training to operate will allow health and social care professionals to make faster, critical decisions for patients at the point of care. The point of care platform that I work on, as an example, combines a small, portable instrument with microfluidic test strips and a simple, standardized workflow and data connectivity into the patient’s health record that empowers health care professionals to gather data and make decisions fast.
While we improve these efficiencies in our own health system, we must also work to make point of care diagnostics available and affordable worldwide. Today, we have the unprecedented opportunity to shape a healthier and more inclusive future by prioritizing action toward equity. This means embedding health equity in our business models and creating innovative solutions that can achieve high performance at a low cost so that they are accessible to all.
The pandemic revealed how connected our health systems are and the critical need for health equity to reach our most vulnerable communities. Concerted action will require we understand the opportunities and present the point of care diagnostic solution as part of an overall patient pathway that allows patient empowerment, sets measures for success, and creates strategic partnerships for scaling. In the future, the patient will be in control of their health and demand health care services that meet their needs at their convenience and timeframe.
We can accelerate our reach to vulnerable communities across the globe through a network of public-private partnerships and investment in decentralizing health care beyond our borders. Such efforts will support a much-needed, streamlined system of care delivery for everyone, allowing us to adapt and respond faster and more effectively to a changing global health landscape.
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