What is the future of at-home diagnostics and health equity? Healthcare organizations have an increasing responsibility to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE+I) efforts not only for employees and community members, but also to better serve patients and their families. It’s critical for these organizations to increase access, eliminate disparities, and provide affordable healthcare opportunities to all people regardless of socioeconomic status or location.
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) or at-home testing is one way to bridge the gap between patients and healthcare providers (HCP) to deliver proactive healthcare from the comfort and anonymity of a patient’s own home. The diagnostic market has made a considerable shift to the at-home market, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic. This market shift has been primarily driven by companies like Everlywell and supplemented by startups all over the world, including Senzo, Healthtracka, TBD Health, Starling Medical, and Hormona.
Improving Health Equity
Health equity is the fair and just opportunity for every individual to achieve their full potential in all aspects of health and well-being. At-home diagnostic tests are transforming diagnostics with a human-centric approach, providing accessible testing tools with clear instructions for use and quick turnarounds. The availability of more at-home diagnostics can help eliminate healthcare barriers if the products are affordable, accessible, and confidential.
Furthermore, at-home diagnostics and testing could be the most efficient and least-costly method for shifting healthcare spending from late-treatment and chronic care to prevention, early detection, and wellness. With a focus on health equity and access, certain – and, previously underserved – populations can utilize the at-home model to bypass traditional healthcare investment curves and radically reduce the need for later-stage acute and chronic care.
As the market continues to mature, consumers, insurers, regulators, clinicians, and test providers will all need to confront certain barriers around increased access, cost, and volumes of available diagnostic information.
Barriers to Equitable Adoption of At-Home Diagnostics
While at-home diagnostic tests provide innovative and redesigned benefits for patients, there are also barriers that exist for underrepresented groups in the healthcare industry that companies should consider when it comes to their strategy to both collect diagnostic data and market to patients.
The healthcare industry has focused on reactive solutions, with patients commonly only seeking treatment once a problem arises. Recently, there has been a large shift from reactive healthcare to proactive/preventative healthcare.
Proactive/preventative healthcare involves understanding your body’s biology and reactions and active monitoring of conditions to prevent illness and disease. Healthcare in the U.S. costs an estimated $4.3 trillion annually, which is roughly twice as much as other developed nations. The costs of treatment continue to rise, placing a financial burden on patients and their families. Proactive healthcare is one way to drastically reduce these costs, potentially enabled through DTC testing and monitoring kits from the comfort of your home.
The patient’s cost of at-home testing can vary significantly based on the type of test, whether laboratory analysis is required, or whether coverage is provided by health insurance. The question of insurance coverage in these areas poses a challenge when introducing new kinds of diagnostic and genetic testing to a market that we haven’t previously had access to. It would be beneficial to insurers and patients for insurance companies to consider including DTC testing in their coverage, as this could decrease the burden of healthcare costs for patients and HPCs alike.
Additionally, almost 1 in 10 people in the United States don’t have health insurance. People without insurance are less likely to have a primary care provider, and they may not be able to afford the health care services and medications they need. At-home diagnostic tests can break down the barriers preventing underserved socioeconomic populations from receiving the healthcare they need, without the need for multiple doctors’ appointments or insurance issues. Creating access to quality healthcare for all people, not only those with insurance, should be a top priority for all healthcare organizations – and it can potentially start with at-home diagnostics.
At-home diagnostics also need to be accessible and easy to use for all people. Getting to a clinic can be an obstacle to healthcare for some older adults, individuals with disabilities, and those who live in areas lacking access to medical facilities. By offering at-home testing, healthcare entities can significantly increase access to wider customer demographics, including additional geographies, or extending to new market segments.
Taking diagnostic tools that were once only available in a clinical setting and regularizing the technology to be accessible within the home can also help build trust between the consumers and their healthcare providers. This technology needs to be not only affordable and accessible, but also understandable for regular use. Educating users on how to accurately use and interpret diagnostic tests from their home, without the help of a professional, should be an essential focus of the at-home testing market to eliminate confusion or learning gaps that could lead to misuse or misinterpreting results. As seen with the Covid-19 pandemic, at-home testing can be difficult to use unassisted by individuals with visual, motor, or other impairments – these factors also need to be taken into consideration in this education.
3. Culturally Relevant Marketing
The majority of existing clinical research trials have lacked a diverse participant group. Efforts to increase diverse participation in clinical research is essential to collect and analyze data that is representative of the needs of our entire population and to improve innovative diagnostic solutions as a whole. DTC diagnostic companies must also take this need for representative data into consideration when entering the market to foster trust and adoption of these offerings.
As companies begin to think about how they will market to and educate potential customers, they need to approach their strategy through a DE+I lens, asking themselves:
- Are we marketing the right types of tests to the correct populations?
- Have we thought of the populations who might best benefit from our tests in the first place?
- Are we using appropriate copy, imagery, and messaging in our marketing and in the language of the target audience?
- Are we including ads in relevant media for underserved populations who we believe can benefit from our product? And if so, are we doing so in a way that best speaks to a group’s identity in an authentic, genuine way?
If the answer is “no,” then efforts must be made to remedy these factors to improve marketing efforts for at-home diagnostics and truly make an impact in this space.
The Future of At-Home Diagnostics and Health Equity
At-home diagnostics are one way that companies can better serve patients and provide accessible health and wellness services to improve health equity overall. However, affordability, accessibility, and a lack of representative data remain a barrier for truly providing holistic healthcare solutions. Moving forward, at-home diagnostics companies must consider these factors in all their practices and policies – from partnering with DE+I experts, to working to improve trust and understanding across the industry, to creating accessible and affordable at-home diagnostics options for all. Working toward improving DE+I – both within at-home diagnostics and within the healthcare industry as a whole – is an ongoing journey and one that will continue to evolve.
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Contributions from Julia Hoffman