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Lab Medicine in the post COVID era-Technology to drive better accessibility and testing capabilities

Date : 11 Aug, 2021

Medical Buyer, Aug 2021: Until a few years back, the role of clinical laboratory was to provide vital information on disease diagnosis aiding medical professionals in management through appropriate interventions. However, advancements in IT enabled diagnostics techniques, for both equipment and testing, have led to greater efficiencies. Further, the pandemic has led to greater focus on preventive diagnosis. Factors such as chronic disease prevention and patient demand for direct-to-home testing are disrupting the diagnostic industry to become more patient-centric in the future.

Building better testing capabilities- Advancements in product technology and the need for convenient sampling is leading to a paradigm shift for less invasive tests that rely on saliva and dried blood spots. Sampling of saliva is beneficial for the healthcare professionals too, as it spares them the risk of being exposed to the infected sample during collection. Similarly, dried blood spots technique is gaining preference for neonatal tests.

Accessibility is another important aspect that will drive lab efficiencies in the future. Going by the current trends, point-of-care testing is gaining grounds owing to its ease-of-use, short TAT, low cost and reducing the volume of lab tests, etc. In resource-limited settings, apart from blood glucose and cardiac biomarkers, there is a huge need for POCT for detection of infectious diseases. Result interpretation is carried out by high-end digital platforms and automatic multiplex analytical tools and can be stored on a cloud server. Technological advancements are leading to development of smart phones and other analytical wearable devices linked to POCT.

The Indian Government is already creating an enabling policy environment where the use of drone technology can become mainstream to delivery of medical and lab supplies.

Adoption of automation: From volume testing to creating impactful healthcare outcomes- As technology continues to revolutionize the diagnostic landscape, there is an increasing need for quality driven processes to perform advanced tests, reduction in errors, elimination of unnecessary testing and cost-efficient operations.

Automation of several laboratory processes is poised to bring this shift by offering TAT, reliability and scalability. Most importantly, automation enables laboratory professionals to focus on driving better clinical outcomes and spending less time managing operations by eliminating time-consuming, repetitive tasks.

In fact, for high throughput laboratories, there is a growing trend for high grade of automation and integration of various disciplines such as serology, hematology, biochemistry, molecular and microbiology for higher efficiency.

Even though point-of-care testing is a growing market, advanced diagnostic tests will still be conducted in large laboratories because of their high analytical performance.

Genomics based testing and other COVID parameters- The COVID pandemic has accelerated the pace for adoption of superior diagnostic testing methods such as molecular and nex-gen sequencing. According to experts, molecular testing will gain more preference in the next few years, as it provides valuable insights at the genetic level for viral infections. The interplay of genomics and technology contributes to the identification and characterization of the genetic basis of the diseases, aids in assessing the disease pre-disposition and implementing diagnostic methods and personalized treatment modalities. Prevalence of diseases like HIV, autoimmune disorders, TB and malignancies will foster the growth of this segment.

There is an even wider acceptability for test parameters such as D Dimer, CRP, Ferritin and LDH which are playing a crucial role in monitoring the severity of COVID-19.

Infusion of Information Technology- Integration of a smart Laboratory Information System (LIMS), offers a multitude of benefits such as maintaining and upgrading digital patient records, inventory management, etc. at the click of a button and impacting the efficiency of lab services.

Further, Internet of Things (IoT) permits remote monitoring for a proactive response.

Keeping patients as the central point of focus, laboratories have started developing solutions such as mobile apps for booking of tests online, scheduling appointments, tracking the status and reporting.