It’s the latest example of how the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is making it possible for new competitors to enter the clinical laboratory marketplace
In response to increasing demand for COVID-19 testing, warehouse retailer Costco (NASDAQ:COST) is seizing the opportunity to sell at-home saliva self-collection test kits to its customers. It makes Costco the latest company to enter the market for SARS-CoV-2 testing and compete against clinical laboratories.
And these non-invasive tests—which are as simple as spitting saliva into a container and mailing it to a medical laboratory—may be more effective at detecting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus than uncomfortable nasal swabs.
Costco is selling its COVID-19 Saliva PCR Test Kit for $129.99 ($139.99 with video observation). Included in the price is a self-collection device, a biohazard bag, a sticker for personal data, and a box for shipping the saliva to a medical laboratory.
Saliva-Collection Kits Gain Popularity and FDA Emergency Use Authorizations
P23 Labs’ assay is one of 12 COVID-19 home tests that have received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). Three of which use saliva specimens.
The FDA’s EUA authorization summary for the P23 assay states it is “for use with saliva specimens that are self-collected at home or in a healthcare setting with or without the supervision and/or assistance of [a healthcare provider (HCP)], by individuals using the P23 At-Home COVID-19 Test Collection Kit, when determined to be appropriate by an HCP based on the results of a COVID-19 medical questionnaire. This test is also for use with nasal swab specimens that are self-collected at home or in a healthcare setting with or without the supervision and/or assistance of an HCP by individuals.”
In a news release announcing the first diagnostic test using saliva specimens, oncologist and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, said that “Authorizing additional diagnostic tests with the option of at-home sample collection will continue to increase patient access to testing for COVID-19. This (saliva sample collection) provides an additional option for the easy, safe, and convenient collection of samples required for testing without traveling to a doctor’s office, hospital, or testing site.” That test was manufactured by Clinical Genomics laboratory of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
Below is a list from Business Insider for at-home self-collection SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus tests that have received an FDA EUA. Most can be ordered online, and prices range from $109 to $149, which may be covered by insurance depending on the health plan.
Binx Health Home Nasal Swab COVID-19 sample collection kit
Yale Study Indicates Saliva Tests Have Greater Detection Sensitivity over Swab
Should consumers choose COVID-19 saliva tests over nasal cavity swab tests? Maybe.
A study led by the Yale School of Public Health found and “conducted at Yale New Haven Hospital with 44 inpatients and 98 health care workers—found that saliva samples taken from just inside the mouth provided greater detection sensitivity and consistency throughout the course of an infection than the broadly recommended nasopharyngeal (NP) approach. The study also concluded that there was less variability in results with the self-sample collection of saliva,” states a Yale University news release.
Yale received FDA EUA for SalivaDirect, a real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) for detection of SARS-CoV-2. However, SalivaDirect is not an “at-home” test. It requires saliva samples to be self-collected into a sterile container in the presence of a healthcare professional, and is being provided by Yale to clinical laboratories as an “open source” protocol, the FDA said in a news release.
“We are trying to work with smaller local labs that want to get up and running to support schools, community groups, universities, and colleges,” Wyllie told Time.
In “Saliva or Nasopharyngeal Swab Specimens for Detection of SARS-CoV-2,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Wyllie and others suggest saliva can be just as effective in detecting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In their study, COVID-19 patients who were tested by healthcare workers using nasopharyngeal swabs were then asked to collect their own saliva samples.
The researchers found that “Collection of saliva samples by patients themselves negates the need for direct interaction between healthcare workers and patients. This interaction is a source of major testing bottlenecks and presents a risk of nosocomial infection. Collection of saliva samples by patients themselves also alleviates demands for supplies of swabs and personal protective equipment. Given the growing need for testing, our findings provide support for the potential of saliva specimens in the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
“The findings suggest saliva specimens and nasopharyngeal swab specimens have at least similar sensitivity in the detection of SARS-CoV-2 during the course of hospitalization,” the researchers wrote in their NEJM paper.
The increasing popularity of at-home COVID-19 testing—along with studies showing that results improve when specimens are self-collected—suggest that medical laboratory managers should closely monitor the rise of COVID-19 home tests, as well as progress being made in saliva for diagnosing the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Further, it might be a smart strategy for clinical laboratories with the capability to perform this testing to approach retailers in their region and establish relationships where retailers sell the collection kits, and the lab performs the test and reports the results.
Since patients pay cash for the SARS-CoV-2 tests at the time they purchase the kits, clinical labs are guaranteed payment for the tests without the need to submit claims to consumers’ insurance companies. That’s another benefit to these types of arrangements.
United Airlines creates pilot program for on-site rapid PCR tests, as other airlines facilitate at-home specimen collection for rapid coronavirus testing
Four US airlines attempting to recover lost business due to the COVID-19 pandemic are partnering with developers of rapid RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests to facilitate testing of passengers either at airports before they board their flights, at drive-through testing sites, or at-home in advance of scheduled travel.
This would be a great opportunity for clinical laboratories to gain business, but few details are known about how these airlines are selecting providers for the COVID-19 tests that will be part of their programs.
The deals come amid calls from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) “for the development and deployment of rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate, scalable and systematic COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure as an alternative to quarantine measures” in many countries, states an IATA press release.
“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travelers before departure,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General and CEO, in the IATA press release. “This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel.”
From a clinical laboratory testing perspective, the requirement for passengers to be tested prior to travel may contribute to two changes in the lab testing marketplace:
Consumers may become accustomed to buying home collection kits for COVID-19 and sending specimens to clinical laboratories. This could have the added benefit of helping consumers become comfortable doing this for other diagnostic tests as well.
Pursuit of profit from manufacturing COVID-19 tests that utilize consumer-collected specimens may increase competition in this market and would likely increase the number of at-home specimen collection products that are easier and more convenient to use.
US carriers offering the COVID-19 tests include United Airlines, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and JetBlue.
United is providing on-site testing through pilot programs at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). At SFO, passengers are tested before taking flights to Hawaii. At EWR, they are tested prior to boarding a thrice-weekly flight to London Heathrow.
“We believe the ability to provide fast, same-day COVID-19 testing will play a vital role in safely reopening travel around the world and navigating quarantines and travel restrictions, particularly to key international destinations like London,” said Toby Enqvist, United’s Chief Customer Officer, in a press release.
A $105 drive-through test administered two or three days prior to flights by Color, a San Francisco Bay area health technology company.
The airline says a negative test ensures that travelers can bypass Hawaii’s mandatory quarantine requirements in Lihue, Maui, and Honolulu. For the Newark-to-London flights, United plans to run a pilot rapid testing program from Nov. 16 to Dec. 11. for passengers boarding Flight 14, departing at 7:15 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Premise Health will administer the testing, which will be free to passengers. Those who choose not to be tested will be placed on other flights.
American is offering COVID-19 testing for passengers scheduled on flights to Hawaii, Latin America, and the Caribbean, according to a press release. For the most part, these are at-home specimen collection RT-PCR tests provided by healthcare testing services company PrivaPath Diagnostics, Inc. (d.b.a., LetsGetChecked). Customers receive their results within 24 to 72 hours after the lab receives the samples.
As with the United flights to Hawaii, the testing program allows passengers to bypass quarantine requirements at their destinations. Customers pay $119 for the LetsGetChecked at-home specimen-collection kit and subsequent RT-PCR testing.
“Our initial preflight testing has performed remarkably well, including terrific customer feedback about the ease and availability of testing options,” American Airlines President Robert Isom said in the press release.
Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue
In separate press releases, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue announced partnerships with Vault Health to offer at-home saliva tests to passengers. After receiving the at-home specimen collection kit, customers can connect through Zoom video conferencing with a Vault Health supervisor who ensures the sample is collected properly.
Hawaiian Airlines also offers drive-through testing at SFO and Los Angeles International Airport through a partnership with Worksite Labs. Passengers pay $90 to receive test results within 36 hours or $150 for express service on the day of travel. Worksite uses a Droplet Digital PCR shallow nasal swab test. The airline says it plans to expand this to other airports.
The Vault Health and Worksite Labs tests meet the state’s guidelines for exemption from the 14-day quarantine requirement, the airlines say.
Impact on Medical Laboratories
Airlines offering COVID-19 testing to their passengers may trigger both an opportunity and a change in the clinical laboratory testing marketplace. First, there is a business opportunity for labs to provide rapid molecular SARS-COV-2 tests to airlines.
Second, if consumers begin using at-home specimen collection kits in greater numbers as part of their air travel requirements, might this make them more comfortable doing self-collection for other types of clinical laboratory tests? A shift in consumer willingness to collect their own medical laboratory specimens—accompanied by ongoing innovations in diagnostic technologies, may eventually reduce the need for medical labs to operate extensive networks of patient service centers.
Of course, such a scenario is years away. But airline COVID-19 testing programs are just one of the progressive steps that can help make that possibility into a reality.
Clinical laboratory managers and pathology practice administrators should consider how these trends may affect their business and patients when planning for the future.
1: Healthcare Reform
McKinsey identified three areas where the coronavirus pandemic may impact healthcare reform:
“COVID-19-era waivers that could become permanent.
“Actions that may be taken to strengthen the healthcare system to deal with pandemics.
“Reforms to address the COVID-19-induced crisis.”
McKinsey reports that “the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has introduced more than 190 waivers since the beginning of March 2020.” These waivers can affect all aspects of healthcare, from clinical practice to reimbursement. Some of them, according to McKinsey, are “only relevant during the crisis (for example, the waiver of intensive care unit death reporting). A retrospective assessment of others (for example, expansion of telehealth access) could reveal beneficial innovation worth preserving.”
Several areas that McKinsey says are clearly ripe for reform include improving the resiliency of the healthcare system and the way the system is funded.
Thus, McKinsey recommends, “Given the substantial shifts in relative market positioning among industry players that prior reforms have created, leaders would do well to plan ahead now.”
2: Better Access to Healthcare Services
Some people who develop COVID-19 are at far greater risk of hospitalization and death than others, including those who have:
Chronic health conditions, including obesity.
Mental and behavioral health challenges, such as substance abuse.
Unmet social needs, such as food or housing insecurity.
Poor access to healthcare.
McKinsey wrote that these “intersecting health and social conditions,” combined with certain races that have higher risk for severe complications, including Black, Indian, and Hispanic/Latino Americans, “correlated with poorer health outcomes.”
Some of the trends that appear to be accelerating as a result of the pandemic are good news. McKinsey cites several benefits, including:
Improved understanding of patients.
Delivery of more convenient and individualized care.
$350-$410 billion in annual revenue by 2025.
Through telehealth and other types of virtual care enabled by digital technology, “intuitive healthcare ecosystems” may arise and offer a more integrated experience for patients and their caregivers, McKinsey notes.
“While the pace of change in healthcare has lagged other industries in the past, potential for rapid improvement may accelerate due to COVID-19. An example is the exponential uptake of digitally enabled, virtual care,” McKinsey wrote. “Our analysis … showed that health systems, primary care, and behavioral health practices are reporting increases of more than 50–175 times in telehealth visits, and the potential market size for virtual care could reach around $250 billion.”
4: The Big Squeeze
The pandemic has caused an enormous outflow of cash from the healthcare system, and some experts don’t expect an injection of funding until 2022. “This outflow is expected to be primarily driven by coverage shifts out of employer-sponsored insurance and possible coverage reductions by employers as well as Medicaid rate pressures from states,” McKinsey states.
“We estimate that COVID-19 could depress healthcare industry earnings by between $35 billion and $75 billion compared with baseline expectations,” McKinsey predicted, adding, “Select high-growth segments will remain attractive (for example, virtual care, home health, software and platforms, specialty pharmacy) and will disproportionally drive growth. These high-growth areas are expected to increase more than 10% over the next five years, while other segments may stagnate or decline altogether.”
5: Fragmented, Integrated, Consolidated Care Delivery
McKinsey says, “The shift of care out of hospitals is not new but has been accelerated by COVID-19.” Rather than the hospital being the center of care delivery, patients are increasingly choosing to receive care at a range of sites across many healthcare ecosystems that are connected digitally and through analytics.
Early in the course of the pandemic, visits to ambulatory care facilities dropped nearly 60% by early April. But by mid-May, those visits were beginning to rebound.
6: Adoption of Next-Generation Managed Care Is Accelerating
How will COVID-19 affect the managed care industry? McKinsey says the “next generation” of managed care might use Medicare Advantage as a model.
“Payers pursuing the next generation of managed care model (through deep integration with care delivery) demonstrate better financial performance, capturing an additional 50 basis points of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization above expectation,” McKinsey noted, adding, “Employers and payers could consider fundamentally rethinking how employer-sponsored health coverage is structured. Learning from Medicare Advantage could provide inspiration for such a reimagination.”
What Should Clinical Laboratory Managers Do?
The McKinsey article concludes by stating, “While the challenges are numerous, leaders who seize the mindset that “disruptive change provides an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack” will build organizations meaningfully stronger than the ones they ran going into the crisis.”
The McKinsey article authors recommend that healthcare organizations take several proactive steps, including:
Launch a plan-ahead team.
Question your role and your future business model.
Prepare to transform your business.
Reimagine your organization to make faster decisions.
Take action to drive health equity.
Though the McKinsey and Company article covered healthcare in general, many of the authors’ observations and recommendations can apply to clinical laboratories and pathology groups as well and may be valuable in future planning.
News stories are reporting that Walgreens is participating in ACOs now forming in New Jersey, Florida, and Texas
Retail clinics are positioning themselves to play a major role in the delivery of basic primary care services. Consumer and payer acceptance of the “convenience care” model has brought the concept to a tipping point in its potential to shift the way that some basic primary care—and medical laboratory testing—services are delivered.
Dark Daily has long predicted that retail clinics would want to expand their services beyond the original formula of a nurse practitioner who handles a basic menu of easy-to-diagnose conditions. Consumers have readily accepted this healthcare delivery model. In fact, a new title has been coined that has its own Wikipedia.com page: Convenient care clinic. (more…)
Retail clinics ready to expand into chronic disease management and that can be a threat or an opportunity for clinical laboratories
Dark Daily has often predicted that rapid clinics in retail stores would actively look for opportunities to add specific medical laboratory tests to their on-site service menus. Now the largest retail clinic in the U.S. is set to deploy hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) testing analyzers in its 600 retail clinic sites throughout the United States.
This deal was announced in November between MinuteClinic, a division of CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE:CVS), and Axis-Shield plc (LSE:ASD, OSE:ASD), of Dundee, Scotland. The agreement calls for MinuteClinic to use Axis-Shield’s Afinion analyzer in all 600 of its clinic locations across the nation. The system’s HbA1c assay is CLIA-waived. The fully automated analyzer will allow MinuteClinic’s providers to collect a patient specimen and get the results of the hemoglobin A1c tests in as little as three minutes.
Of course, the business strategy here is to add the clinical services necessary so that providers can serve patients with diabetes in these retail clinic settings. This represents a sizeable market. According to the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, there are 25.8 million adults and children with diabetes, and only 18.8 million have been diagnosed. Of greater interest for clinical laboratory managers and pathologists, 79 million Americans are considered pre-diabetic and, in 2010, 1.9 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed among individuals who are 20 years and older. (more…)