As technology becomes increasingly mobile and information becomes more readily available, consumer demand for immediate answers continues to rise. This demand is coupled with the concurrent growth of health-conscious consumer attitudes. Mobile apps that report traffic delays, artificial intelligence software that listens to and interprets commands, and wearable electronics that track activity and sleeping patterns — these programs are all geared toward consumers who are invested in gaining rapid information that they can use to make everyday decisions.
Diagnostic testing is also on the path to being incorporated into the handheld technology and software that people use on a daily basis. Just as consumers want immediate results about the chance of rain or how many calories they burned in a treadmill session, they do not want to wait to hear the results of a health test. Immediate information about their physical well-being is valuable, as it offers reduced time spent awaiting results and experiencing stress over the unknown during that period.
This desire for quick answers is reflected in the current structure of the complex consumable model. In prior years, the diagnostics industry was characterized by a complex system and a simple consumable that placed significant cost on the clinic or lab and provided little benefit or low value for the patient. Now, a paradigm shift has occurred in the market, and it is more common to have a simple system paired with a complex consumable. With a complex consumable, the ability to conduct a sophisticated assessment is placed in the hands of the patient, as opposed to providing them with a device that would merely provide a “yes” or “no” answer. This shift has allowed for lower operation costs in the lab and higher value for the patient, who is able to achieve accurate and in-depth diagnostic results much faster and with relative ease.
With diagnostics falling in line with the drive for fast information, testing performance must meet that market change, but how is technology changing to speed up analysis and deliver faster results? In some cases, like with tests that require urine samples, the materials used in diagnostics are drastically reducing testing times. For example, some newer materials on the market can wick urine faster than their older counterparts and thus allow for quick sample analysis and delivery of diagnosis. Additional innovative materials include collection media that reduces oral fluid viscosity in samples and features customized surface energy for improved recovery of analytes, as well as porous material that can collect, transport, store, and release a sample all in one single component.
Increased speeds and mobility at all levels of testing can have significant impact on the in vitro diagnostics industry. In lateral flow tests, as the sample flows through the material, faster collection can lead to a faster diagnosis. An at-home pregnancy test that uses new and more absorbent sample collection pads can more quickly detect whether a woman’s urine contains the human chorionic gonadotropin analyte (hCG) and determine whether she is expecting. These advanced collection pads feature optimized capillary structures for retrieving samples and delivering them to the test site.
For polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, sample collection and extraction is critical. With new filtration and extraction technology, the analysis of blood samples is more efficient, and faster assessment of genetic conditions is possible. Complex consumables come into critical play for PCR testing, which requires the amplification of DNA and generation of millions of copies of a sequence. If the technology required to perform this task can be built into a consumable, and DNA replication and interpretation can be done on the spot in a handheld device, this advancement has the potential to transform PCR testing.
While speed and accessibility are also important for point-of-care (POC) diagnostics, mobility is especially key for this type of testing. For patients diagnosed with diabetes, for example, the ability to have state-of-the-art testing technology that can fit in a pocket is key in making life more comfortable and making proper care easier to maintain. Making these systems easy to use also has significant benefits in terms of ensuring patient adherence and commitment to personal care.
For each of these types of tests, using materials or media that seamlessly move samples through the testing process from beginning to end is crucial for prioritizing the health and needs of the patient. New materials that focus on efficient and reliable control of samples from start to finish work to improve testing from various angles.
In a clinical setting, using these materials could allow medical professionals to deliver a confident diagnosis in less time, thus enhancing the patient experience and reducing operational costs. In terms of self-administered diagnostics, the materials could allow for quicker results or mobile tests that alert consumers of deficiencies or changes outside of a yearly checkup.
This accessibility to testing and results could influence a consumer’s decision for something relatively inconsequential, like choosing a restaurant or a fitness activity. If someone finds that their blood sugar is a little high one week, they may choose a restaurant with a plethora of vegetable-packed entrees. If another sees their heart rate has not reached the desired level this week, they may choose a cardio-heavy workout like a cycling class.
It is easy to connect these types of decisions with an increased prevalence of accessible diagnostics, but imagine if this testing technology could eventually impact a choice as significant as selecting a partner. It is already customary in today’s world to do a preliminary Google search on a potential mate and to ask them on the first date about their background, their likes and dislikes, their occupation, etc. — but what if it also became the new norm to check your partner for sexually transmitted diseases or infections upon the first meeting? What if you could ask your date to swab the inside of their cheek and then analyze the results with software on your smartphone? With the way diagnostic testing is headed, it may not be outside the realm of possibilities for a relationship to be pursued or halted based on the health information obtained on a first date.
The possibilities are virtually endless for diagnostic tests in a world that demands immediate, personalized information. Their flexibility in sample collection, transport, preparation, and analysis makes them highly versatile for the mobilization and miniaturization of technology, as well as for use in a diverse range of applications. With this shift toward accessible and up-to-date healthcare information, diagnostics tests may step away from their traditional clinical setting and eventually be found in every home, impacting the way consumers make health decisions and interact with others on a daily basis.
This article was written by Chandra Umapathy, Global Marketing Director, BioSciences, for POREX®, Fairburn, GA. For more information, visit here.