The rise of telemedicine and virtual care options have primed at-home testing to make a significant impact on the future of healthcare. 70% of today’s medical decisions depend on laboratory test results, but lagging lab APIs hinder the widespread launch of remote diagnostics.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a major increase in telemedicine usage, including a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020 alone. Both patients and doctors report positive experiences using telehealth services. According to a study conducted by the American Medical Association and the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, 79% of patients were very satisfied with the care received during their last telehealth visit. 68% of physicians told researchers they were motivated to increase the use of telehealth in their practice. Insurance providers are enthusiastic, too. UnitedHealthcare launched a virtual-first healthcare plan in late 2021.
As it stands, however, most healthcare providers cannot offer a complete remote care cycle, and patients still need to visit an in-person facility to access diagnostic testing. The next step in advancing popular telehealth services is to launch widespread at-home diagnostics, which would allow physicians to send kits to patients’ homes. Patients self-test (proven to provide accurate results) and mail samples to the lab. Physicians then follow up through established telehealth services.
Indeed, there are many reasons to implement widespread at-home diagnostic testing. It can lower the workload for physicians, especially those with chronic care patients. Additional telehealth services could further eliminate historical racial care gaps. According to a study using data from five Penn Medicine hospitals in Philadelphia, Black patients’ visit completion rates increased to 70%, from 52% with access to telehealth services. At-home diagnostic testing could curb the rise of STIs, so much so that the state of California requires insurance providers to cover tests. Remote diagnostics are useful for managing long-term medications like PrEP, lithium, and other drugs that require routine testing.
The FDA recently changed its policy to support at-home diagnostic testing for infectious disease management. In short, patients, providers, and institutions all value at-home diagnostics. It could improve healthcare outcomes across the board and usher telehealth into its next phase. So, why isn’t everybody using it?
One major issue is that lab APIs are stuck in the past. They aren’t automatic. They don’t scale well. The lab APIs we use today were built decades ago. FHIR and HL7 — the data formats/protocols designed for transmitting healthcare data — are tedious, clunky, and archaic. These formats are the basis of most EHRs, and are how institutional health systems communicate with one another. This makes it difficult to utilize lab APIs for the purposes of at-home testing.
Until now, there haven’t been strong market pressures for labs and healthcare systems to develop new technology. The popularity of telehealth should convince healthcare organizations to invest in updating lab APIs. Modern lab APIs would be time consuming and tedious to build, but necessary to accommodate at-home testing and other innovations.
Following are three suggestions for what a new lab APIs would need to entail to make at-home diagnostics accessible on a large scale:
1. High-level integration: Most labs use their own individual APIs. Businesses/healthcare systems have to integrate with each lab testing API to onboard testing services. Different labs offer different tests, so they would have to integrate with a new lab to access a new set of tests. It would be better to create an API that integrates across labs so that hospitals, clinics, etc. could use a single system.
2. Scalability: Traditional lab APIs don’t scale well. They aren’t built to. They can’t pump out a huge number of tests. This creates a bottleneck problem for something like at-home testing.
3. Automation: Most healthcare APIs aren’t automatic. They still require human interaction — a lab tech or an end-user — to input data. It’s very difficult for a layperson to interact with a lab testing API, and technicians are busy with other tasks. If an API is automated, it can operate without human input.
The popularity of telemedicine in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has made updating lab APIs more crucial than ever. Lab results play a vital role in patient wellness. To support a more complete telehealth cycle with at-home diagnostic testing, healthcare should invest in modern API systems.
About David Stein
David Stein is the CEO of Ash Wellness, a B2B at-home diagnostic company launching remote care services for healthcare organizations and D2C businesses. Ash Wellness offers white-lable operations management, testing via a CLIA/CAP certified lab network, kitting and fulfillment, and modern technology infrastructure. In his role, David is responsible for mission vision, strategy oversight, fundraising, and corporate development. He is a graduate of the Cornell Tech MBA program.