The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise, exposing many of our social and political vulnerabilities. It has made everyone, from patients to political figures, realize the importance of investing in high-quality health care services and medical research. An essential question that the pandemic put forth is ‘How to improve diagnostic accuracy?’ In the first year of the pandemic, COVID-19 tests were instrumental in managing the pandemic and minimizing the spread of the virus. Even with effective vaccines, accurate COVID-19 diagnostic testing is still paramount.
In this article, we’ll discuss diagnostic accuracy in the COVID-19 era. How much can we trust medical test results in general? What measures can improve diagnostic accuracy? Read on to learn more.
1. Testing Accuracy Depends on Several Factors
In medical testing, diagnostic accuracy refers to the ability of a test to determine if a person has the target condition or not. Of course, some health conditions are easier to detect. In these cases, testing accuracy can be almost 100%. However, even tests that provide a high level of accuracy can become inaccurate in certain situations. Test accuracy depends on testing conditions. Different situations create different barriers. For example, faulty collection devices and human error can affect diagnostic accuracy.
2. Testing Accuracy Has Two Components: Sensitivity and Specificity
For medical professionals, testing accuracy refers to two different things: sensitivity and specificity. When talking about medical tests, sensitivity is the ability of a test to determine who has the target condition, whether that’s a disease or an infection. Specificity is the ability of a test to determine who does not have the target condition.
Since it’s impossible to confuse the genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 with the genetic material from other viruses, COVID1-9 tests are highly specific. Thus, we often hear about the test giving false-negative results.
Tests that provide a high level of specificity seldom give a false positive. For example, if your COVID-19 test comes back positive, you can be sure that you are infected with the virus. However, even if your test comes back negative, you may still be infected. COVID-19 tests are not as sensitive as they are specific. Sensitive tests are the ones that usually give false-positive results.
Throughout the pandemic, many patients tested negative on a first test and positive on a second test, which has happened so often precisely because the test is not highly sensitive. Thus, if there is a human error in specimen collection, or if the patient is in the early or final stage of infection, the test result can be false-negative.
3. Superior Testing Solutions Already Exist
As we learn to accept the idea that COVID-19 is here to stay, it can be a relief to know that scientists and medical researchers are constantly working on improving the effectiveness of the vaccines and coming up with new treatment paths. They’re also working on creating quicker and more effective diagnostic testing solutions.
When thinking about nasal-swab samples, we cannot ignore the fact that sample collection is not always done perfectly. Plus, the process is painful and inconvenient for the patient. Thankfully, we can expect massive improvements in testing methods and solutions in the future, with a big diagnostic difference.
Current research shows that innovative dna saliva collection kits can completely transform COVID-19 testing. The first saliva collection device has received authorization for COVID-19 testing. Moreover, we can expect this innovation to produce new diagnostic applications for other infections or diseases. Being able to diagnose infection with a saliva sample makes testing easy, quick, noninvasive, and painless. Importantly, this innovation can make COVID-19 testing more accurate. It also paves the path to more accurate testing for other target conditions.
4. Accurate At-Home Diagnostic Testing Is Possible
As researchers develop superior testing solutions, we can also expect at-home diagnostic testing to become more prevalent and provide high diagnostic accuracy. Noninvasive at-home testing kits can revolutionize how we detect viral infections and various diseases and disorders. Their major benefit is that they can facilitate early detection.
Early detection is crucial in health care, especially when it comes to contagious or severe diseases that can only be treated successfully in the early stages of development. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown once again how dangerous contagious diseases can be. Early detection allows people to self-isolate quickly before they can spread the virus further.
When talking about cancers, early diagnosis can make the difference between life and death. Scientists are currently working on developing multi-cancer early detection tests. A breakthrough in this area can save millions of lives since cancers can be treated effectively only in their earliest stages. However, at the moment, at-home diagnostic testing for cancers is only a hope for the future.
In the COVID-19 era, your COVID-19 test results can determine if you should be allowed to travel, go to school, or go to work. Thus, the implications of diagnostic accuracy are vast. Inaccurate testing can create many complications and undermine all the efforts towards reducing the impact of the virus.
To minimize the risks of dealing with an inaccurate diagnosis, consider the following tips:
- Consider taking medical tests at two different facilities at different times.
- Take your medical tests at reputable medical facilities.
- Strictly respect the instructions of the medical professionals.
- If it’s relevant, consider scheduling a physical examination in addition to diagnostic testing.
Diagnostic errors account for the largest fraction of medical malpractice claims and cause the most severe patient harm. Diagnostic testing eliminates many risks associated with human error, but it’s not always infallible. However, diagnostic testing is still fundamental for detecting, managing, and treating various diseases and disorders.
Current research paths show a lot of promise. The COVID-19 pandemic has generated high interest in diagnostic testing, which will likely determine more government agencies, investors, researchers, and medical facilities to channel resources in this direction.
It is not farfetched to think that in the future people will diagnose themselves using at-home testing kits. These kits will be able to detect a large number of diseases, from viral infections to cancers. As a side-effect, health care costs will drop significantly. However, we do not know yet how soon this will happen.