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Rapid testing can cut patient waiting time from days to hours

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Rapid diagnostic tests are becoming increasingly important, especially after Covid-19. In an exclusive article Oliver Schacht, chief executive of OpGen tells Health Tech World that quicker diagnosis results in quicker care and eases patient suffering

“Over the past year, discussion around COVID-19 has introduced the concept of ‘PCR’ testing to the general public. And though many might not be familiar with the intricacies of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing, the need for rapid testing panels for bacterial, fungal and viral infectious diseases is becoming clear, even outside of the context of the current pandemic. As we continue to deal with and understand the consequences of current and future quarantine, healthcare professionals will need to prioritize rapid testing beyond the novel coronavirus with particular focus on Lower Respiratory Tract (LRT) infections.

Where Next-Gen Tests Stand in Accuracy

The medical community has already demonstrated notable progress in the development of rapid molecular diagnostic panels, including LRT infections in lower respiratory specimens. In fact, current panels have shown to match traditional microbiological cultures in accuracy.

A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology evaluated the performance of a commercially available rapid molecular LRT panel in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) specimens against that of standard of care (SoC) microbiological testing. The panel demonstrated comparable clinical sensitivity and specificity when compared to conventional culture.

In some cases, the panel even exceeded in detection of bacterial pathogens that were missed by traditional culture methods. For example, in an additional study, a rapid molecular LRT panel was able to detect 27 per cent more pathogens than the SoC microbiological testing. And though both means of testing identified a significant number of pathogens, the LRT panel detected a notably higher number of clinically significant pathogens such as Legionella.

Where Speed Makes a Difference

As multiplex PCR panels continue to meet, and in some cases exceed, traditional culture in accuracy, the immediate and most obvious advantage that PCR panels provide is their rapid turnaround time. For example, the recent study concluded that rapid testing reduced wait time for results from 2.8 days for culture to a mere 5.2 hours with the LRT panel; and when it comes to patient care, cutting down wait times from days to hours can have meaningful impact for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Empowering healthcare workers to make decisions as quickly and accurately as possible provides a wide range of benefits to healthcare facilities, healthcare providers, and the individual patients. On the most basic level, quicker diagnoses result in quicker care, easing patient suffering and reducing time spent in medical facilities and healthcare costs. But the often overlooked benefit lies in a more focused treatment plan. When healthcare professionals are able to accurately and quickly diagnose specific pathogens, the need for broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment plans drops notably. Hence, these rapid diagnostic tests are important not only for improving individual patient outcomes, but also for fighting the worldwide problem of antimicrobial resistance.”

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