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Testing in a pandemic: How health systems can prepare for this respiratory season

Improving access, coordination & preparation for better lab testing

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has created a feeling of uncertainty in both the general public and the medical community. While we can't predict what's in store for the upcoming respiratory season, COVID-19 will remain a challenge in tandem with other seasonal illnesses.

Are you prepared to respond with the correct diagnostic testing equipment and services?

What we've learned during COVID-19

Without question, COVID-19 testing demands have outweighed the supply. Manufacturers, suppliers and distributors were under enormous pressure to keep up with demand as new COVID-19 variants caused a surge in cases across the globe. From shortages of raw materials and staffing, transportation delays and other global disruptions, we don't anticipate the high demands to end anytime soon.

Through advanced planning efforts and strong supplier relationships, many health systems were able to successfully navigate the testing landscape with little disruption to patient care. The most successful augmented their lab and point-of-care (POC) testing capabilities with flexible lab management plans and seamless shifts to alternate testing platforms.

"The number one lesson learned is that labs must be proactive instead of reactive to get what they need," said Aaron Hurst, laboratory supervisor, Newton Medical Center (NMC).

"Just-in-time (JIT) inventory during a pandemic is not effective and with the help of our distributors and supplier partners, we have learned to adjust and proactively prepare with multiple testing platforms to diversify our testing options." If NMC faced allocation issues or shortages for reagents or testing platforms, Aaron's lab was better prepared with the necessary supplies.

McKesson Medical-Surgical works with health systems across the U.S. to provide customized point-of-care lab solutions and services to provide patients with accurate and rapid diagnoses through a variety of testing modalities.

Here are five key considerations to think about when planning for your respiratory testing needs.

1 | Set goals

Developing a holistic approach to support respiratory testing is critical. While there may be many unknowns leading into flu season, health systems can determine the correct strategy and goals to better meet their patient's needs. Other testing goal considerations could include evaluating effectiveness, accuracy, availability, clinician comfortability, costs and reimbursements models. The first step is to assess these factors and develop a lab management plan.

In many cases, health systems are looking for consistency across their network of facilities. They want to ensure their testing platforms, protocols and requirements are easily understood and trusted by their staff and more importantly – their patients. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, different care sites will likely have different testing requirements. Health systems should work with their distribution partners to gain a better understanding of what testing options are available and formulate the appropriate procurement and lab management plan in alignment with their goals. 

2 | Assess your assets

Health systems should consider the total respiratory landscape when assessing assets. With new COVID-19 variants affecting the course of the pandemic, manufacturers have shifted much of their focus to supporting at-home and point-of-care COVID testing applications. While important to meet this demand, health systems should consider and assess POC testing requirements across their network and determine whether it's diversified enough to handle the change in demand.

Make sure you have what you need to perform safe testing on-site for flu, strep, RSV and other respiratory illnesses. Your distribution partner should provide lab solutions that include proactive preparation, market insights and supply chain intel that keeps health systems well-informed on how best to plan and navigate the upcoming flu season. 

Providing laboratory testing at the point of care can come with unique challenges, but we're here to help. Our laboratory services include consulting and clinical programs to intelligence software – so you can provide patients with the results they need, faster. See lab services >

3 | Diversify your testing options

In an ideal world, providers could rely on the manufacturer to have their primary mode of POC testing available and ready for order. Whether on allocation, lost-in-transit or simply a low inventory, testing platforms and modalities can be challenging to procure. Health systems should consider diversifying their respiratory testing options to avoid disruption or delays in patient care.

Working with your distributor should give you access to information and a better understanding of the variety of respiratory testing modalities available and their capabilities.

"When availability is tight, we can introduce alternative testing options that can help meet the needs of your patients and your testing goals," said John Harris, vice president for strategic accounts, laboratory, McKesson Medical-Surgical.

"At McKesson, we do a thorough job of vetting lab technologies to ensure products are effective, reliable and that the manufacturer has the scalability to support the needs of our customers," said Harris. "We're very strategic and intentional on which suppliers we choose to partner with."

There are two primary groups of respiratory POC testing options:

1 | Antigen tests

  • Visually-read tests (more subjective)
  • Machine-read tests (more objective)    

2 | Molecular tests

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Nucleic acid amplification (NAAT) 

4 | Engage the appropriate stakeholders & collaborate with your distributor

Working with your distributor to develop a lab management plan to transition to an alternative testing modality is no easy task and can't happen in one moment. Assembling multidisciplinary teams to set goals, assess the assets and evaluate testing alternatives is critical. This includes collaboration with the supply chain, clinicians, quality, value analysis, infection prevention, POC facility leadership and other team members who will be performing the tests and interpreting results.

In collaboration with your distribution partner, health systems can work with these stakeholders to validate tests, compare them against their current instrumentation and establish the policies, protocols, education and training necessary to quickly shift to alternative testing when the need arises.  

5 | Partner with your distributor on implementation

It's important to proactively prepare each POC site on how to navigate the testing modalities – efficiently and effectively. Because each type of respiratory test – molecular, antigen, visually read and/or machine read – has its own specific equipment and processes, it's important to begin staff training and education early. Consider working with your distributor to assist with this education and implementation process.

"McKesson has a specialized lab implementation team that coordinates instrument delivery, onboarding and training with customers," said Harris.

"We also recognize that change is difficult. That is why we put such a large focus on ensuring that new technology changes receive a lot of attention and support. A successful rollout ensures a successful adoption, happier staff and may support overall patient care."

Our laboratory implementation team helps with initial lab setup and implementation, ensuring you have enough space for lab equipment, verifying hazard protocols, validating and testing equipment and more. This team can help set up single pieces of lab equipment or help build an entire new lab. Email us today to get started >


Managing the new normal with diagnostic testing requires detailed coordination, collaboration and a willingness to be flexible and adaptable to change.

"Over the past two years, the health systems that have been most successful are the ones who have a strong cadence of communication with this McKesson team," said Harris.

"Through trusted relationships, proactive communication and planning we can get ahead of potential roadblocks and ensure that the health systems have the most up-to-date information so they are able to make the best decisions for their organization."

Harris encourages health systems to maintain constant communication with their distribution partners, not just during the respiratory season but year-round, to keep a pulse on emerging market trends, lab solutions, global events and shifts in the testing manufacturer landscape.  

© 2022 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.