COVID-19 testing sparks new at-home revolution for genetics and STI versions
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people around the world couldn’t get tested fast enough. Queues at health centers stretched for blocks as people waited anxiously to find out if they had been infected. The new virus has taken the diagnostics industry to a new level of test manufacturing, and these capabilities have sparked at-home testing for a variety of other health conditions and parameters.
In July 2020 – four months into the pandemic – nasal swab testing was still rare. The New York Times wrote a dismal report on the scenes unfolding across the United States. Despite manufacturing more than 26 million swabs, testing was still the “choke point” in handling the pandemic.
Home tests were eventually developed, but these too were in shortage. It triggered innovation for genetic testing company Everlywell. Everlywell, which offers direct-to-consumer metabolic and allergy testing, used its home testing technology to create a PCR test for COVID-19, which received FDA authorization in 2021. To help get tests faster, Everlywell has partnered with DoorDash to provide testing for patients at home.
Although home testing for COVID-19 has been dismal, the home testing revolution has inspired personal testing for several other illnesses. Tests for flu and strep throat suddenly appeared in the marketplace, freeing people from waiting in doctor’s offices to receive results.
For some other conditions, developments in self-testing are relieving social stigma. During the pandemic, cases of sexually transmitted infections has increased considerably, but testing for them has declined. Some possible reasons for the decline in testing are the stigma socially associated with such conditions and the high out-of-pocket costs for testing.
As cases continued to climb, the state of California was overwhelmed by the number of patients seek help for STIs. California has become the first state to pass a law requiring health insurance to cover home testing for STIs, including HIV, chlamydia and syphilis.
As HIV rates steadily increased during the pandemic, the need for HIV testing also increased. Take me Home, a public-private partnership was launched in March 2020 in response to the pandemic. The service provides home-based HIV self-testing kits that national or local health departments pay for at no cost to patients.
The home-screening initiative “could bring better disease surveillance to rural and underserved areas of the state, reduce the stigma patients face when seeking care, and give them more control over their health.” , said California Healthline.
Home tests for pregnancy and fertility tests have also seen an increase in demand. Pregnancy test sales skyrocketed 13% between June 2020 and November 2021. Predictive fertility testing has also increased as many fertility treatment centers have been deemed non-essential for most of the pandemic.
Although ovulation tracking apps have been around for years, there has been new demand for diagnostic fertility tests – for women and for men – from brands such as Modern Fertility, Everlywell, Let’s Get Checked and Dadi. As a study in Fertility and sterility reports41% of people at a fertility clinic opted for a home fertility test when offered the option, even though it was not covered by insurance.
Colorado-based fertility company MFB Fertility received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration in 2020 for its Proov fertility test, marking a major milestone in considering fertility as an essential part of overall health.
Genetic counseling and testing is another area that has seen an increase in home testing. Because telehealth exploded during the pandemic, genetic counselors could still speak with patients, but genetic testing was still difficult without being there in person. To help meet patient needs, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has gone bold decision to validate the performance of genetic tests using saliva rather than blood. For the first time, this allowed patients to receive a kit in the mail and send their saliva to a lab for testing, rather than having to travel to a facility to have blood drawn.
The direct-to-consumer genetic testing market is expected continue to grow rapidly. According to a 2021 report from gtr, a market research and consulting firm, home genetic testing from companies such as Ancestry, 23&Me and MapMyGenome is attractive as awareness of the prevalence of genetic diseases increases.
As direct-to-consumer testing becomes more popular, diagnostic companies should be ready to capitalize on new opportunities. New tests are rapidly becoming available for a variety of diseases, genetic screenings, and health status measures, and companies that don’t adapt to the convenience of home testing can be left behind.