The latest breakthroughs in medical technology are changing the way patients are diagnosed for many diseases. Tests that may have taken days to come back – sometimes resulting in a delay in treatment and multiple doctor visits – can now be performed instantly, using point-of-care tests.
At Yale Medicine, a team of laboratory scientists is working with doctors, nurses and technicians to make sure that this type of testing follows the highest standards for our patients’ care. “Point-of-care testing is an area that is really exploding,” says Sheldon M. Campbell, MD, PhD, professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “There are a lot of new tests being developed that are very promising.”
What is point-of-care testing?
Point-of-care tests are medical tests that are performed right next to the patient, with immediate results, rather than being sent to a medical laboratory for evaluation and confirmation. This category includes tests that a consumer can buy in a drugstore and perform at home, such as a home pregnancy tests.
What are some common point-of-care tests?
One common point-of-care test you’ve probably encountered, especially if you're a parent, is the rapid strep test – a throat swab done in a doctor’s office to check immediately whether the patient has strep throat.
“With the rapid strep test, if you get a positive result, you can start treating for strep immediately,” Dr. Campbell says. If the test is negative, the doctor will often send a second test to a lab for further analysis, because the rapid test is not quite as reliable as the traditional throat culture.
Another common test is a glucose test. For this test, a blood sample is obtained using a small needle to prick the patient’s finger. The blood sample is placed on a test strip, where its sugar level is assessed; results appear on a meter within a minute.
“Glucose control in diabetes can get a lot worse when you’re sick, because stress hormones can affect insulin,” he says. “So we do a lot of point-of-care glucose testing in the inpatient setting.”
Promising new developments in point-of-care testing include DNA-based flu tests that can provide immediate results, and tests for HIV and white-blood-cell counts.
What are the benefits of point-of-care testing?
Instead of waiting several hours or days for test results, the patient can get a result within minutes, requiring only one office visit. This allows treatment to begin immediately, Dr. Campbell says. "Point-of-care testing can make the whole health-care system run a little more smoothly,” he says.
What makes Yale Medicine’s approach to point-of-care testing unique?
Point-of-care tests at Yale Medicine are performed by nurses, technicians and primary care physicians and overseen by lab specialists, adding an extra element of safety, Dr. Campbell says.
“We train them, look over the paperwork to make sure they’re doing the right quality control, make sure they’re storing the testing kits at the right temperature," he says. "We also give competency tests periodically to make sure we are providing the best possible care."