The nation’s largest health insurer says “a patient-administered test process is as effective as the current clinician-administered test process,” which should open the door to safer and more efficient testing related to the Coronavirus strain COVID-19.
A study funded by UnitedHealth Group shows people can self-administer a diagnostic test with a much smaller swab, a process that should save potentially thousands of clinicians from being exposed to the virus while at the same time making the testing simpler.
Researchers say such a self-administered process eliminates the need for the healthcare worker to be “up close to the patient” with patient protective equipment when the patient can merely swab their own nostril and had the test to the medical care provider.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force hinted earlier this week in a briefing that “self-swabbing” options were going to be available sometime this week so the study supports what the federal government is pursuing.
The study, which used data from 500 OptumCare patients, comes amid a parade of diagnostic test approvals for Coronavirus following weeks of criticism of the Trump administration and federal agencies for the lack of testing for Coronavirus. The U.S. is considered well behind other countries when it comes to the availability of testing generally.
“We know that broad, rapid and accurate testing is essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, yet the current clinician-administered process significantly limits testing capacity, puts frontline health care workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure, and is unpleasant for patients,” Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, an infectious disease expert at The Everett Clinic and the study’s lead author said in a statement accompanying the report. Everett Clinic is a part of OptumCare, the medical care provider business of UnitedHealth.
UnitedHealth Group said its research and development unit partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Washington and Quest Diagnostics to conduct the study. The research and related study are to be published in a medical journal that neither UnitedHealth Group or those involved in Wednesday’s announcement about the results would disclose.
“Making simple, patient-administered testing widely available will substantially improve testing efficiency, while protecting health care workers and preserving urgently needed personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gowns and gloves,” Tu said.
In the meantime, the FDA has been approving more rapid tests that can be used by doctors, nursing homes and by healthcare workers at testing sites. These FDA approvals follow clearance of Coronavirus tests made by Abbott Laboratories, Roche and other big manufacturers that are used in large hospitals and academic medical centers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presents the health care system with extraordinary challenges that need to be addressed quickly,” UnitedHealth Group chief scientific officer Ken Ehlert said. “While working on the front lines of our clinical care facilities in Washington state, Dr. Tu saw an opportunity to improve COVID-19 testing and rallied the expertise and resources of UnitedHealth Group to complete the study in less than one week.”
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