How Private Practices Can Leverage Personalized Health Diagnostics 

By Bill Stone, CEO, AllClear Healthcare.

Despite major changes in the healthcare system over the last few years, it’s still hard for many patients to get answers for the causes of chronic or sudden-onset health issues. The pandemic made things even worse by increasing testing delays and doctor visit wait times. Many private health care practices use commercial, off-site laboratories to provide test results to their patients. Some of these labs have improved the slow test result turnaround times that were exacerbated by the pandemic, and also now offer more tests to wider groups of patients. 

Unfortunately, it can still take days if not weeks for many labs to return accurate results. At least 10 percent of patients say the most frustrating aspect of their medical experience is a long waiting period for results. An even larger percentage might have to wait weeks to get a visit to their personal care provider, only to be sent to a specialist provider and then on to a lab to get the specific test they need, and then wait even longer to get results back. Not to mention, these tests are frequently expensive and often subject to the whims of insurance. 

However, through new developments with telemedicine, biometric technology, precision diagnostics, and diagnostics-as-a-service testing models, private medical practices gain advantage solving testing challenges and can offer faster care for patients who need a diagnosis now rather than in a few days or weeks. Here’s how private practices can best leverage new personalized health diagnostics technologies, protocols, and providers to improve individual care and give patients more control over their own health, both now and in the future. 

Changes in the diagnostics world

In the past few decades, and especially in the last few years, medical diagnostics have been characterized by hyped performance and underperforming accuracy with many new tests and or slow results turnaround through traditional labs. The health care system is chronically understaffed, and the pandemic exacerbated the issue by overwhelming the health care system and contributing to the burnout of doctors and nurses. Add to that the movement of big pharma companies to profit by increased demand with overpriced medicines and fast but often inaccurate testing, and you have a health care system that is bloated, overtaxed, fragmented, and sometimes focused on profit over accuracy and relevance. 

As a result, more than 70% of patients have stated they have felt misunderstood by their doctors or even experienced medical gaslighting. For instance, they may have been given inaccurate test results or told by medical professionals that their conditions were all in their heads, only to find out after many additional visits or switching providers that they had a real treatable condition all along. For some gastrointestinal disorders like IBS (a catch-all diagnosis without a highly certain prescriptive path), the time from symptom to better health can be years. The world needed more specific and accurate testing. 

COVID showed this even more clearly, changing our perception of what is possible and important in testing. What is clear today is our need for speed, accuracy, and improved accessibility. That’s where personalized health diagnostics entered the picture. 

The shift to personalized health diagnostics

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual care became 38 times more common, and 80 percent of doctors now offer some form of telehealth. The ability to order a kit and test from home for various ailments has become widespread and now includes testing for gastrointestinal illnesses and more with lab-based accuracy. There’s still room for improvement of course, since many at-home tests lack the accuracy of lab-based tests, but in any case, accessibility to testing has increased. 

In addition, on-site testing for STIs, respiratory ailments, and other illnesses can now return same-day results. Where traditional healthcare has been overwhelmed, there is a new and informed cadre of providers offering functional, integrative, or precision medicine, all based on the stronger evidence and data that innovative, accurate and personalized diagnostics testing provides. 

But perhaps the most important change has been how the pandemic has allowed many individuals to take control of their own health; in other words, enabled them to be their own best healthcare advocates. There are more testing options readily available that don’t require a visit to a primary care physician, and new technologies are constantly under development to make diagnostics faster, more personalized, and more accurate. 

One of the top technologies being used today is biometric technology in the form of smart devices, like a Fitbit, which are used to monitor certain aspects of an individual’s health and provide additional data for medical practitioners to reference as appropriate to enable more personalized care. However, this new development has come with challenges: for one, preserving patient privacy. 

IoT devices like Fitbits and other wearables often have security vulnerabilities or don’t allow consumers to fully control how their data is used. Since nine out of ten U.S. adults are concerned about the privacy of their health data, biometric technology will likely require more development in the area of data security before many patients will be willing to use it in everyday life. 

The second development has been precision diagnostics, which can pinpoint illnesses in a wide variety of types and severity levels. Today, there are tests readily available for everything from SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and lactose intolerance to RSV, Strep and the common flu, as well as for a variety of other common illnesses like STIs, lyme disease, and many more. Considering that a significant percentage of gastro issues may be caused by either SIBO or lactose intolerance, it’s a huge advantage that tests today can help individuals rapidly and accurately rule them out or get patients on the correct treatment path to rapidly improve health outcomes. Practices gain efficiencies and accelerate the time to improved health when patients arrive with evidence-based data in the form of accurate test results. 

What’s more, physicians no longer need to send patients to various testing providers to get multiple tests over many weeks. Now they can often refer patients to a partner lab or single diagnostics-as-a-service provider to fulfill testing needs. There are options for individuals to go to a reputable testing provider and get a diagnosis, often within 24 hours, or even order a test online for home testing. Enabling easier access to high accuracy affordable results, faster, for their patients makes private practices more efficient and lets them focus on what they do best: advancing patient care. Private practices should consider recommending reliable diagnostics test providers so patients can get peace of mind faster and be empowered to get answers faster and where issues are identified work with their providers to gain better control over their own medical journeys. 

This leads directly to the third development, which is on-demand, direct access testing. Many tests are now available for home use. Alternatively, there are many labs open to walk-in visits. These labs have short waiting times and often return same-day results. Still, practitioners and patients have to do their homework to find the best options. We learned from the pandemic that home COVID test accuracy is considerably less accurate than PCR or microfluidic antigen tests.  For example the Abbot BinaxNOW, a lateral flow antigen test that Nature noted was less than 40% accurate with asymptomatic people using only a single test. 

Telemedicine, telehealth, and testing benefits today

These new developments have created some important benefits for patients. The most obvious benefit of telehealth is decreased wait times, since telehealth visits are usually faster and easier to schedule. In addition, many on-site tests can return same-day results. Simply getting an accurate result can provide patients with a certain amount of relief, and practitioners with the evidenced-based data required for additional care, even when the diagnosis is serious. 

Another important benefit has been more affordability and transparency. It’s hardly surprising that 67 percent of U.S. adults are very dissatisfied with the lack of affordable health care options, especially considering the high costs and lack of price transparency in the health care system. Most people are accustomed to not knowing exactly how much a particular doctor visit or test will cost until afterwards, only later to get surprised by an unusually large bill. By contrast, many of these third-party diagnostics testing providers have prices clearly indicated up front, allowing patients to plan ahead better and shop around for more affordable options with comparable accuracy. Today most insurance plans have large deductibles, so an out-of-pocket purchase for a test that is 30% – 50% less expensive with similar accuracy can actually save you money. 

Perhaps the most noticeable benefit has been that patients are now empowered to take more control of their own health. While it is certainly possible for medical professionals to recommend particular labs or diagnostics providers, many testing providers don’t require any referrals or prescriptions. That means anyone can simply walk in and get their test done without requiring the immediate oversight of a personal physician. 

Protecting against an uncertain future

The world of medicine and particularly health diagnostics has changed since the start of the pandemic. But experts who worry about another pandemic in the future are looking at additional ways to make their testing strategies more effective against that eventuality. 

One of the most important ways for that to happen will be to make lab-accurate, affordable testing more accessible to the general public. To do this, health diagnostics providers will need to be strategically situated to meet the demand for testing both now and in the case of another pandemic. Private practices can facilitate this by establishing connections with personalized health diagnostics providers and encouraging patients to seek out such providers for testing. It can also improve practice efficiencies by enabling patients to get evidenced-based results and data prior to a consultation. 

The pandemic showed that commercial diagnostics test providers can be invaluable to meet the need for faster and more efficient testing in the event of a public health crisis. Private practices can help to prepare for whatever comes by partnering with personalized health diagnostics providers and taking advantage of new medical technologies today.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *