Coronavirus: New study clears way for self-administered testing

March 27, 2020

Self-administered testing is as effective as physicians-administered testing.

Self-administered COVID-19 coronavirus can be just as effective as physician-administered tests, according to a new study by UnitedHealth Group.

The study found that simple, self-collected testing is less invasive and will reduce exposure for healthcare workers. Widespread adoption would improve overall testing efficiency across the U.S.

Researchers found that self-administered swab tests accurately detected the disease in more than 90 percent of positive patients, which is consistent with physician-administered tests. Due to the results of the study, the FDA has updated its guidance to allow patients across the country to self-administer the swab tests, the study says.

The study comes as the U.S. rises to the top in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and administered tests. Despite the high number of tests, though, the country still lags behind in the number of tests per capita and the rate of testing differs from state to state, according to reporting from The New York Times.

The need for expanded testing grows by the day as President Donald J. Trump pushes for the country to get back to work by April 12, a move that experts believe could lead to an explosion of new cases without a better view of the disease’s footprint.

“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,” study-lead Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, an infectious disease expert at The Everett Clinic, part of OptumCare, says in a news release published with the study. “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.”

The current COVID-19 test requires a healthcare worker to collect samples from deep inside the patient’s nasal cavity which requires the use of personal protective equipment and is uncomfortable for the patient. This practice puts unnecessary strain on the healthcare system at a time when the system is already under immense stress. The self-administered test allows the patient to just swab the front of their nostril and mid-nose.

“Nasal swabs are extremely easy for anyone to self-collect, in any setting, so it's an excellent way to expand screening while reducing worker exposure,” Gerard Cangelosi, professor at University of Washington Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, says in the release.

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