How retail clinics & pharmacies benefit from point-of-care (POC) testing
Point-of-care (POC) testing within retail clinics and pharmacies can play a significant role in helping reduce the spread of infectious diseases. This reality was perhaps best illustrated during the height of the pandemic when healthcare clinics located within local pharmacies provided some of the quickest and easiest options for rapid SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) tests.
But independent pharmacies' ability to help reduce disease spread goes far beyond the pandemic. Here's a look at just why it's so important for your pharmacy to offer rapid flu tests, strep tests and other point-of-care testing solutions.
Infectious diseases — even the ones that have been around long before COVID-19 — can present significant threats to human health and longevity. According to the World Health Organization, as of 2019, "pneumonia and other lower respiratory infections were the deadliest group of communicable diseases."1 And today, the COVID-19 virus continues to infect people in communities across the globe.
Gastrointestinal infections and skin infections can also threaten the health of individuals and spread in communities including schools and workplaces. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) also require rapid treatment to stop disease progression and community spread.
POC testing and rapid test accuracy are essential tools for helping prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Examining, diagnosing and treating patients in a single visit helps improve clinical care while reducing disease transmission. These benefits are even more pronounced in locations like pharmacies and retail clinics, where patients tend to visit for convenient and affordable walk-in healthcare needs.
What is POC testing?
POC testing is a broad term for laboratory tests taken in a healthcare setting during a patient visit. The most common POC tests include rapid strep tests, rapid flu tests, blood glucose monitoring, prothrombin time/international normalized ratio (PT/INR) for people on blood thinners and fecal occult blood.2 And though rapid testing capabilities — and the healthcare settings that offer these tests — vary, POC testing in a pharmacy or retail clinic can give healthcare providers the information they need to make timely clinical decisions.
During some appointments, clinic providers are able to confirm if patients are positive for certain infectious diseases and, when appropriate, immediately instruct patients to go home, rest and start treatment.
This benefit extends beyond doctor's offices to retail clinics and pharmacies as well. Patients may visit retail clinics or pharmacies when they're feeling sick because these locations are often easier to reach than a doctor's office, with walk-in options and extended/weekend hours. The pandemic played a large role in promoting these expanded pharmacy services for certain types of POC testing.
This in turn has helped the public view pharmacies and retail clinics in a new light. Some states are even expanding the pharmacist's role — a role they can easily fill because 53% of licensed U.S. pharmacists already hold Doctor of Pharmacy degrees.3
Today, forward-thinking pharmacies and clinics would be wise to expand their services to include POC testing (such as strep and flu tests), knowing that this trend is going to lead to even more opportunities in the future.
In fact, the demand is already there. An independent pharmacy in Roanoke, AK, for example, already administers 1,000 flu and strep tests a year, while another pharmacy in Austin, TX, administers 1,500.4 As more opportunities become available to pharmacies and retail clinics, those demands are only going to grow.
How POC testing reduces community transmission
Infectious diseases develop from organisms like bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. In some cases, an infected person may pass a pathogen to another person. Though the original source of infection may remain unknown, as more people pass the pathogen to others, more individuals can become infected.5
One of the benefits of POC testing at a clinic or pharmacy is that providers can advise isolation when necessary and begin treatment right away. Without rapid results, some patients may become more likely to resume their normal activities while they wait, increasing opportunities to spread illness via community transmission.
A review published in the June 2021 issue of PharmacoEconomics confirmed that rapid test results can mean timely treatment decisions, reduced risk of infections and decreased hospitalizations.6
If an individual tests positive for an infectious disease or condition during a retail clinic visit, patients can receive an antibiotic, antiviral or other treatment options that can be initiated immediately to decrease household transmission and minimize further spread within schools, workplaces and the community.
The pharmacy's next step may vary depending on local regulations. Pharmacists might call the primary care doctor or set up a telehealth call right away, allowing them to fill a prescription while the patient waits. In some states, pharmacists or other healthcare professionals within their clinics can write the prescription themselves. They'll also be able to quickly offer advice on quarantining and other mitigation measures, along with immediate access to OTC medications that might help and their possible drug interactions.4
If an individual tests negative during a visit, the pharmacist can provide guidance on symptomatic relief, such as over-the-counter medications available at the pharmacy that can help, home care options for cold symptoms and more.
The bottom line is that regardless of the results — whether positive or negative — a clear benefit of POC testing is that pharmacies and retail clinics can provide immediate help for treatment and symptom relief.
How to begin implementing POC testing
Implementing point-of-care testing within a retail or pharmacy clinic requires equipment, staff and the ability to analyze results. Any tests that can't be conducted in that location may need to be sent out to a local reference lab.
Pharmacies and retail clinics that want to offer POC testing may need their own CLIA waiver, allowing them to perform waived tests which may include strep, flu, hep C, AIC, cholesterol, INR, HIV, lipids and more.4
Pharmacies and retail clinics are also going to need to train their staff, so technicians are able to handle most of the process and additional staff can step in for interpreting results. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regulates all laboratory testing through the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). CLIA licensing is not an overly complicated process and is in place to ensure quality laboratory testing. 7
In some cases, pharmacies might want to reach out to nearby providers, letting them know about their new testing services. They might suggest that providers refer non-urgent or after-hours cases to the pharmacy so the providers can focus on the chronic and critical conditions.
CLIA 101: Answers to your most common questions about CLIA waived tests >
How retail clinics & pharmacies benefit from POC testing
Using POC testing platforms can help grow pharmacy revenues and the services they provide to their communities. As the general population learns more about testing options, they become informed healthcare consumers and may seek out clinics and pharmacies that can offer the convenience, lower costs (compared to physician office visits) and peace of mind that come with same-day test results.
For pharmacies and clinics, the benefits are often well worth the investment.
For strep and flu tests, for example, pharmacies might charge $25 to $125 per test, while paying $3 to $13 per test after the testing devices are purchased.4 Patients often pay in cash, and frequently buy something else while they're there to help manage their symptoms. The increased traffic and word of mouth can help participating pharmacies attract new customers too.
To get an accurate cost/benefit overview, providers should team with a network like McKesson Medical-Surgical that understands instrumentation and reagents and can provide a potential ROI breakdown based on the pharmacy's individual situation.
In this age of immediate access, immediate response and immediate feedback, in-house laboratory testing is a great differentiator. Any pharmacy or retail clinic would be wise to jump on the opportunity now and get ahead of the trend.
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