Medical personnel and government officials want people taking more personal responsibility for their health care. Digital age technology is making that possible with wearables and self-testing diagnostic kits.
The digital age and growing consumer health-care self-awareness are spurring the plethora of medical diagnostic testing kits (MDKs). The market for MDKs is $30 billion worldwide. Their benefits include the following:
* Results are often available within thirty minutes compared to twenty-four to thirty-six hours from laboratories
* Consumers can go to a doctor if they suspect they are pregnant or have a MDK-diagnosed illness for treatment and early intervention
* Rapid MDKs cost a small percentage of the fees charged by labs
* MDKs provide privacy to consumers who can use them at home
* Doctors using MDKs in their offices substantiate a diagnosis, order more sophisticated testing if necessary, and begin treatments sooner than if they had waited for patients to present with advanced conditions
MDKs Promote Good Health
The home pregnancy test kit is nearing its fiftieth birthday. Invented by graphic designer Margaret Crane, it began appearing on store shelves amid America’s cultural tsunami of the mid-1970s during the era of free love, hippies, “make love not war,” and the Woodstock generation. The home pregnancy test kit is credited with introducing millions of women into the medical-care system for prenatal care in the early months of pregnancy, leading to better maternal and infant health.
Jake Miller, writing on the Harvard Medical School News website (June 26, 2015), reports that HMS researchers published a report praising the Ebola rapid MDK: “at bedside [it] was as sensitive as a conventional laboratory-based method used for clinical testing during the recent outbreak in Sierra Leone.” Nina Pollock, an HMS assistant professor and senior author, praises the simplicity of the kits and rapid results. The MDK saves days of waiting results, cuts delays in treatment, and avoids threats from contamination when sending samples to conventional labs.
A World Health Organization study in its March 2015 bulletin measured the impact of making subsidized MDKs for malaria available through drugstores in Uganda. The study concludes this protocol “appears to be a feasible and effective way to increase testing rates and improve overall case management,” eliminating the wasteful use of antimalarial drugs, while waiting days for test results sent off to a lab.
Recognizing MDK Drawbacks
MDKs are not always the best testing approach. For example, testing for Strep A, HIV, h pylori in children, or obesity-related diabetes might be more efficient and effective in laboratories. MDK testing for HIV is slow, while some labs produce results in half-an-hour, reasonably priced.
Among the most controversial MDKs are genetic testing kits. Some observers applaud the risk-reduction concept; the genetic links to illnesses might lead to preventive measures and early interventions. Critics worry how consumers might interpret the results, letting their imaginations get the worse of them.