JThe Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has renewed attention on Covid-19 antigen test kits. They’re in high demand in the United States and many Americans are struggling to get them, prompting President Biden to announce that the White House will buy and ship 500 million rapid tests for free starting in January.
The untold backstory here is that many people get used to serving as doctor and patient simultaneously. Before the pandemic hit, the idea of millions of people self-administering home tests to determine if they had a life-threatening illness seemed hard to imagine. Today, it is part of everyday life.
While home antigen tests have made a questionable epidemiological contribution to monitoring and combating the pandemic, the real value they present goes far beyond Covid-19. If people trust their results, the end result of the US government’s investment of $50 billion to subsidize home testing could spark a movement on many fronts that radically decentralizes health care and changes what Americans wait and how they access care.
The current discussion around antigen testing understandably focuses on the availability, cost, and effectiveness of testing. Trust is another big issue. The rush for Food and Drug Administration approval may have backfired, undermining confidence in the tests for some and creating a false sense of security for others.
Yet as Americans come to appreciate rapid home testing for Covid-19, I believe it will usher in a new era of healthcare in which people will feel comfortable testing a variety of conditions at the home because of their positive experiences during the pandemic.
Just a few years ago, trying to engineer change like this would have seemed like a distant dream requiring years of education, billions of dollars, and a sea change in mindset. It is amazing that this transformation seems to occur with relative ease.
Antigen testing is just the start. The public is increasingly familiar with — and expecting — tools that enable access to health care on their own terms, such as home testing for everything from strep throat to food sensitivities, calls FaceTime with their doctors and prescription drugs delivered to their doorsteps. This expectation is not going away anytime soon. The dilemma facing health technology companies now is finding ways to capitalize on the positive aspects of this trend while guarding against the challenges created in its wake.
My company, Healthy.io, is working on applying this approach to chronic kidney disease, for example. We call it ‘health care at the pace of life’ because it means people will be able to have life-saving medical tests at home, when it’s most convenient for them, without having to travel to a lab, clinic or to a doctor. Office.
This is consistent with key lessons from the massive US experience with home antigen testing. Specifically, everyone should have access to key tests, not just those who can afford the upfront costs. Otherwise, the new system will only reinforce the shortcomings of the one it replaces.
Home testing must meet high standards of clinical quality. To have any diagnostic value, both patients and practitioners must believe that the tests are as effective and as reliable as those used in medical practices.
For the home testing revolution to truly benefit patients, it must also address the systemic issues facing the healthcare system. As Covid-19 home testing has shown, if a test exists but is too expensive for the people who need it most, it will only reinforce existing inequalities in healthcare.
The pandemic has forced Americans to meet their health care needs in new and innovative ways. To their credit, they did so with enthusiasm and determination. We now have a golden opportunity to rewrite the rules of the game in healthcare. It must be done today, and in the right way, or it will be lost tomorrow.
Yonatan Adiri is the founder and CEO of Healthy.io, a company working to turn the smartphone camera into a medical device.