Public Healthcare Could Be Improved Through Better Testing
November 7, 2013

Public Healthcare Could Be Improved Through Better Testing

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

There is an urgent need for easy-to-use diagnostic tests which can identify the pathogen responsible for causing an infection and provide results more quickly than existing methods, according to a new Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) report published Thursday.

The report, “Better Tests, Better Care: Improved Diagnostics for Infectious Diseases,” appears in a special supplement to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and makes several suggestions to help spur the research and development of new diagnostic methods. Furthermore, the authors outline how those new techniques could be better implemented to offer better care for patients and address public health needs.

“With the current state of diagnostic testing, we are handicapped, making decisions based on limited or nonspecific information – in situations ranging from helping individual patients to identifying broader public health threats,” explained Dr. Angela M. Caliendo, lead author of the study and the executive vice chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “It is critical that we not only invest in the development of new diagnostic tests, but that we also work to ensure these new tests are fully integrated into patient care.”

Improved testing would help reduce the misuse of antibiotics, protecting the limited supply remaining while making sure than patients are receiving the best treatment options for a plethora of different infectious diseases. Furthermore, it would lead to improved monitoring of potential outbreaks, the study authors claim.

Specifically, the IDSA is pushing for ways to provide fiscal incentives and reducing red-tape. By doing so, they hope it would make it more “financially and logistically viable” for medical research companies to develop diagnostic tests in the areas where they are most needed.

In addition, the group is calling for “”improved clinical research infrastructure to accelerate diagnostics development – for example providing critically needed specimens that researchers and companies can use to make sure their tests provide accurate results [and] funding for outcomes research to demonstrate the clinical value of diagnostic tests, increasing the likelihood they will be used by doctors and hospitals.”

Some of the most essential diagnostic tests currently available require days or even weeks to obtain results, and some experts believe that the wait could be shortened to as little as an hour in some cases.

Dr. Caliendo said that such delays in testing puts doctors at an “immediate disadvantage” when treating infections, ultimately increasing healthcare costs due to unnecessary treatments and hospitalizations.

For instance, the study authors explained, half of all patients treated for acute upper respiratory infections are given antibiotics, even though the majority of those infections are viral and cannot be treated in that way. At this time there are no tests that can quickly, affordably and accurately help medical professionals determine the causes of such infections and the IDSA believes such tests could reduce the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescriptions.

“Such tests also would ensure patients are getting the best treatment for viral diseases – including HIV, hepatitis C and the human papillomavirus (HPV) – and quickly identify the cause of widespread problems such as community acquired pneumonia, which can be viral or bacterial,” the agency said in a statement.

“Improved diagnostics would also help doctors and public health experts to quickly identify emerging infections, such as MERS coronavirus or new strains of influenza; assess the spread of already-prevalent diseases like malaria, measles and dengue; detect and track foodborne illnesses; and respond more effectively to outbreaks, pandemics and potential acts of bioterrorism,” it added.