While there are some hurdles to overcome when initially adding point-of-care testing to your community pharmacy’s list of offerings, the benefits are well worth considering. You have the relationship and access to your customers in a place they visit more often. Research has shown that the significant amount of time that can be saved by this type of testing, for a variety of illnesses besides COVID-19, is alone worth the effort of applying for licensure to offer it to your clients. And there are many other benefits as well – as well as some challenges.
Human error is a risk in many aspects of medical care, and can be a particular problem for point-of-care testing. Staff members, who already have a variety of other tasks to perform each day, must be trained in how to perform the different tests properly. There could be more likelihood of error in this case than in the case of a laboratory technician who performs the same set of tests many more times a day.
Also, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, some tests such as those associated with diabetes testing, can actually cost more as point-of-care tests than traditional lab tests.
But despite these few drawbacks, point-of-care testing is an additional revenue stream that should be considered for your community pharmacy.
Traditionally, testing has required a sample to be sent off to a lab for analysis, which could cause a delay of several days to the diagnosis of a patient’s illness. During that time, the patient’s health would likely further decline. And then the patient would be required to come back into the clinic to receive results and/or to pick up a prescription.
But in a point-of-care testing community pharmacy, however, a sample can be tested immediately after collection, while the patient waits or shops in mere minutes.
Pharmacies also frequently have longer hours of operation than doctor’s offices, which enables sick patients to be seen sooner than they would be if they had to wait on their general practitioner to have an opening. For the growing number of patients who don’t have a GP, the time saved in not having to search for one can make a tremendous difference.
Oftentimes, in order to help a sick patient who will have to wait days for their results from the lab, a medical professional will prescribe antibiotics that are likely to help with what the patient probably has. This can be helpful at times by allowing the patient to take immediate action to improve their health, if the guess is right. But sometimes symptoms can be misleading. If the diagnosis is different than expected, patients may have to change antibiotics. Because stopping a course of antibiotics midway can promote antibiotic resistance, the drawbacks of this practice are notable.
But with the immediate diagnosis provided by point-of-care testing, the information can be communicated to the healthcare provider and the right antibiotic or other drug can be prescribed right away. This can save time and energy for the client as well as go a long way toward reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance.
When patients wait less time for diagnosis and treatment, their symptoms can begin to improve more quickly. This shortens the amount of time a client must feel poorly and reduces the extent of the illness. And according to the National Institute of Health, “The billed amount the patient or insurance company sees for POCT will usually be less than for central laboratory testing.”
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, when it comes to patients who are ill enough to be admitted to the hospital during testing, immediate results can mean a much shorter hospital stay. This can significantly reduce medical costs as well as the stress of being away from the familiarity and comfort of home.
These cost-saving factors lead us to the next benefit:
The immediate test results, quick diagnosis, and ability to leave their first appointment with their prescription or OTC medication in their hand all add up to make a patient feel better even before beginning their medicine. The clear path of action provided by a diagnosis allows patients to feel like they are actively doing something to get better. This can improve their mood and general sense of well-being.
Eliminating the uncertainty of illness makes patients feel more secure and at peace. People may forget things you say, but they don’t forget how you made them feel. Your clients will remember it was your pharmacy that gave them that feeling of security, and they didn’t even have to wait for you to call them back or make a follow up appointment. Who then will be at the front of their mind next time they are under the weather or need to recommend a pharmacy to a sick friend?
According to the National Community Pharmacists Association, “Point-of-care testing provides an excellent opportunity for community pharmacies to enhance revenue by expanding patient care services while improving health at the patient and population levels.”
Because treatment can begin immediately upon diagnosis, patients will purchase prescriptions and other necessities for treatment from you out of sheer convenience because they’re already present in your pharmacy the moment they learn what they need to start healing.
Many patients with a chronic illness require prescription drugs that must be monitored closely to prevent toxicity. With point-of-care testing, these individuals can become additional regular clients simply for the monitoring of the effect of their long-term prescriptions.
There are also other practical considerations: Do you have the right team members to support the offering? Is there space for adding the equipment and/or “clinic” space for customers to get the testing and wait for results? At what point would initial investment begin to deliver a return on your investment? Have this discussion with your partners/trusted advisors to evaluate the option for your community pharmacy. It may be a great opportunity for you and your customers.