There was a time when the only way a patient could receive comprehensive diagnostic medical tests was through a laboratory. The process often took days or weeks and was expensive, tedious, and sometimes frightening. In the last decade, however, point of care testing (POCT) has arisen as a formidable and inspirational adversary to lab-based tests.
The two methodologies (point of care testing versus lab-based tests) can and often do work together, allowing doctors and medical professionals the opportunity to cross-check and confirm results. However, there is no doubt that point of care testing is definitely a rising star in the medical/healthcare technology world. The current coronavirus pandemic may further expedite that trend.
Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why point of care testing is currently such a valuable industry in the medical world …
In recent years, the blood testing industry has gone into overdrive with its technological innovation. It is now possible to acquire a comprehensive sequence of affordable diagnostic tests in 20 minutes with nothing more than a single tiny blood sample.
These new groundbreaking point of care testing diagnostics are the result of three testing modalities — clinical chemistries, immunoassay, and hematology assays — converging into a single platform. In some cases, all that is needed is a single instrument with no refrigeration necessary.
Novel reagent technology has also transformed the concept of reliable, accurate on-site testing diagnostics, essentially eliminating the need for offsite labs that sometimes require weeks of waiting to get results.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
As they say, necessity is the mother of innovation.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the medical industry (not to mention the whole world) and the need for rapid antibody testing will almost assuredly permanently transform the way we think about epidemiology and infectious diseases.
In the frantic race and struggle for medical professionals to care for the sick and try to contain the spread of the virus, we’ve seen a co-operative convergence of lab-based testing with point of care testing.
There are basically two types of antibody tests that have been used for COVID-19: 1) high-caliber lab tests that process a large number of tests at once; and 2) rapid point of care antibody tests that use blood, plasma, or serum to deliver a result within minutes. Both are necessary at this time; it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.
However, the need for rapid antibody testing during this time is expected to push the industry into higher grounds in terms of technology and capacity.
As we know, capital and market growth drives innovation to a large degree. For better or worse, this is especially true in the medical industry.
The point of care testing market includes both the ‘over the counter’ industries like glucose tests (the largest market) and pregnancy tests, as well as “critical care, infectious disease, cardiac markers, diabetes, lipids, coagulation and haematology.”
Overall, the market is estimated to be over $6 billion and that number just keeps rising. While glucose tests (as noted above) are the largest market, infectious disease testing is the fastest growing sector and we can expect the coronavirus pandemic to further augment this trend.
Molecular testing is expected to be an additional new growth market in this industry and many medical analysts are curious to see whether point of care testing will lead the charge in this field.
Expectation of Emerging Technologies
Unsurprisingly, emerging technologies are expected to play a major role in the coming years and decades of the medical world. Incremental change has gradually improved materials, electronics, and computation, but sometimes promising concepts don’t pan out in anticipated ways.
For example, Lab on a Chip (LOC) technology has not become the transformative force on point of care testing that some analysts predicted. However, as microelectronic technology continues to grow, so could LOC.
Similarly, other technologies like polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are considered vital to point of care testing. Not only are these tests critical right now in COVID-19 analysis, such medical tech could change the study of infectious diseases in developing countries in the coming years.
Point of care tests still work synergistically with lab-based tests and the current coronavirus pandemic has made the importance of this symbiotic relationship all the more transparent.
However, the need for inexpensive, fast, accurate medical tests will not abate and POCT is undoubtedly one of the most promising transformative diagnostic medical testing technologies on the market right now. Only time will tell how lucrative this sector becomes….but it sure seems like the sky’s the limit.