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At-Home Diagnostics: Beyond COVID-19

In this series, our consumer healthcare experts highlight emerging trends and challenges in the rapidly growing at-home diagnostics market, exploring implications for at-home testing and DE+I, supply chain, quality and compliance, and data and analytics. 

At-Home Diagnostics

There is no doubt that COVID-19 accelerated science in healthcare. We experienced the adoption of new technology-enabled opportunities such as telehealth, patient portals, and artificial intelligence (AI) automation in health data. As a result, we are seeing a breakdown of barriers among patients and providers. We are also seeing more healthcare companies turning their focus to the at-home demographic, finding ways to make their products and/or services available virtually or on-demand as well as through direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels.  

Since the pandemic, healthcare providers have been increasingly taking advantage of telehealth to make care more accessible to patients anywhere, anytime. The number of Medicare telehealth visits increased 63-fold in 2020, from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to nearly 52.7 million in 2020. Currently, 76% of U.S. hospitals connect with patients and consulting practitioners at a distance through the use of video and other technology, according to the American Hospital Association. 

This shift in healthcare is also providing opportunities for over-the-counter (OTC) and DTC diagnostics for an array of other conditions and diseases. The current at-home testing market goes far beyond pregnancy and Covid-19 tests – with today’s convenience and accuracy of at-home tests, consumers are taking charge of their health more than ever before.  

Consumers Are Becoming Increasingly Engaged in Self-Healthcare 

With access to home kits, apps, and other technology for self-monitoring, many consumers are eager to take their health into their own hands. At-home tests are using the same testing infrastructure developed by diagnostics companies and some of the top laboratories in the nation to give patients convenient and accurate access to their own medical information without the hassle of an in-office visit.  

A growing number of consumers already utilize technology such as mobile apps and wearable devices to monitor their health, measure fitness and sleep, and manage their prescription drugs. Home testing is fundamentally reshaping the diagnostics industry and healthcare in general by providing patients with more testing options and ultimately more autonomy in self-healthcare. 

What At-Home Tests Are Out There? 

DTC at-home tests now include a plethora of offerings from numerous companies, providing customers and patients with more options than ever before. Patients can now perform tests that previously required doctors’ appointments and office visits, such as testing for Lyme disease, Influenza, fertility levels, allergies, cholesterol, and even cancer. At-home tests can help detect possible health conditions prior to symptom presentation, enabling patients to get earlier treatment and lowering their risk of developing later complications.  

Most DTC test kits involve taking a sample of a body fluid, such as blood, urine, or saliva, and preparing it to be sent to a lab. Everlywell, a company that sells at-home tests for everything from Lyme disease to fertility, said the company experienced over 100% growth in 2021 compared to 2020. And orders for the women’s health category, which includes fertility, perimenopause, and post-menopause testing grew 400%.  

Home-monitoring devices from companies like Levels also provide the capability for consumers to monitor conditions that require frequent changes in treatment, such as glucose testing to monitor blood sugar levels in patients with or without diabetes. With these devices, companies can facilitate the doctor’s prescription required for a continuous glucose monitor for consumers. The result can provide consumers with better insights into how certain foods and activities can impact individual biology and aid in better decision-making. 

Advantages of At-Home Diagnostics for Healthcare Providers: 

For healthcare providers, there are some advantages to their patients using at-home diagnostics, including: 

  • Improving and increasing healthcare: Medical appointments are now more frequently being conducted over phone or video chat, with Telehealth use at levels higher than before the pandemic. Home diagnostics allow doctors to request tests remotely, reducing the need for patients to visit clinics and hospitals. 
  • Personalizing patient care: Home diagnostics can improve the clinician’s ability to offer faster and more accurately targeted medical or preventative care. It also can give patients a more accessible and personalized approach to managing their own individual healthcare. 
  • Easing strain on healthcare systems: As at-home testing and monitoring becomes faster, more affordable, and more accurate, this may help ease pressure on an already over-taxed healthcare system managing extremely heavy workloads – particularly when it comes to routine testing and patient monitoring. 
  • Preventative healthcare: Digital health innovation is fueling a movement toward preventative healthcare and wellness, and consumers can now look at their own data to monitor if they may be at higher risk for certain diseases, how certain foods and activities may affect them, and potentially make better choices to prevent illness and disease. Healthcare is transitioning from a single “treatment” model to an integrated model of “prevention and care” and is aimed at developing and promoting more personalized health care. 

Cautions of At-Home Tests 

It can be very convenient to perform diagnostic tests from the comfort of your own home, but before rushing to purchase a home test, a best practice is to check with your healthcare provider and ensure you are choosing the proper test, performing it correctly, and accurately interpreting the results. An at-home test kit should not be a replacement for a healthcare provider’s medical opinion or advice. When it comes to at-home test kits, it’s also important to check if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has evaluated it for accuracy, reliability, validity, and safety in clinical trials and to review the DTC company’s data protection policies and practices to ensure you’re in agreement with how your data may be used.  

Future of At-Home Diagnostics: Beyond Covid-19 

There is a significant post-pandemic emerging market for the DTC testing industry. Quest Diagnostics estimates consumer testing to be a $2 billion opportunity by 2025, growing at a 10% compound annual growth rate, and the lab giant is expanding its existing DTC operation in an effort to capture $250 million of this emerging market. 

Rather than replacing healthcare providers, at-home diagnostics can create an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between patients and physicians, as people become more educated and involved in their own health and wellness. Healthcare providers are moving toward an omnichannel approach by allowing individuals to take control of their health and communicate with their providers on their own terms via email, text, web, chat, and mobile phone. 

A trusted clinician relationship remains paramount in all healthcare organizations. As health systems, technology companies, and others launch virtual services and DTC or OTC products, it’s imperative to provide the same personal experience as during an in-person visit. As emerging diagnostic tools become more prevalent, clinicians must determine how to decode the information from these new data streams and use it to improve diagnoses, care, and outcomes for a patient’s healthcare journey 

As we continue to explore the different trends and opportunities in this space with our consumer healthcare experts, please feel free to reach out for any guidance. 

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Contributions from Julia Hoffman

Tags: Direct-to-Consumer