Point of Care vs. Laboratory Testing

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    Diagnostic devices continue to evolve, becoming more sophisticated, less expensive, and faster at producing results in recent years. These devices have not yet replaced traditional laboratory testing, but have made much of it less necessary. There are advantages and disadvantages to both point of care and laboratory testing.

    Point of Care Testing

    Point of care (POC) testing, also sometimes called near-patient, bedside, or extra-laboratory testing, is performed using diagnostic devices that are portable, disposable, and small. Individuals may also use these devices for self-testing, as when a diabetic patient tests their own blood glucose level.

    A primary benefit of POC diagnostic testing is fast results. These tests can help emergency personnel make quick and possibly life-saving decisions about a patient’s afflictions and the kind of treatment a patient requires. The tests are generally reliable and accurate as well. POC devices have been shown to reduce a patient’s length of stay in the emergency department of a hospital. Many POC devices include chips that can store and transmit test result data to healthcare and laboratory databases. However, this can create patient information privacy issues.

    POC testing can go wrong if the person administering the test hasn’t received proper training. Most technicians or patients who administer POC tests don’t receive training in laboratory protocols. POC tests aren’t subject to the same kind of quality assurance policies as laboratory tests. Additionally, many tests don’t yet have the ability to collect and transmit data electronically, meaning staff must enter data into a care facility’s information systems manually. This creates an opportunity for human error.

    Laboratory Testing

    Analyzing tissue samples in a lab requires that a lab trained technician collect a sample from a patient and transfer the sample to the lab. There, a lab technician will analyze the sample and report the results back to the treating physician. All this takes extra time. However, labs have strict protocols for managing the specimens, the chemical reagents that react to them, the vessels in which samples are stored and tested, and the instruments that conduct the tests, which technicians carefully calibrate to ensure accuracy. Many lab instruments can directly input results into the lab’s information system, eliminating any errors caused by manual data entry.

    Ultimately, healthcare facilities will use both point of care and laboratory testing, depending on the clinical need of their patients. Laboratory testing is the preferred method in primary care, where a physician monitors a patient’s overall health over time. POC testing, which provides fast and accurate results, is suited to accidents and emergency situations, as they enable emergency departments to make quick decisions and provide speedy care to patients when time is of the essence.