Getty Images/iStockphoto

Understanding COVID-19 Testing Options Calls for Patient Education

Two out of three Americans lack a proper understanding of COVID-19 testing options; providing patient navigation could be key for quelling patient education needs.

Americans need more patient education to understand COVID-19 testing options, especially as higher rates of respiratory viruses like COVID-19 pose a risk to patients, according to surveying from Wakefield Research conducted on behalf of Roche Diagnostics.

The survey, conducted between November 4 and November 13, reflects responses from 1,000 adults 18 years and older.

The findings showed that nearly 66 percent of patients are confused by the differences between PCR and rapid antigen tests, the two most prominent testing options to diagnose respiratory infections. Similarly, patients are just as confused about the appropriate circumstance to use the testing options.

While many are confused about COVID-19 testing, 25 percent of surveyed adults were aware that PCR tests are the most accurate for early detection. Adults with children had a slightly better understanding of PCR tests, with 33 percent recognizing that PCR tests are the best for early detection.

"Before the pandemic, most outside of a clinical setting didn't know that PCR testing was the most accurate in detecting viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, and there's still room to grow that understanding," Jamie Phillips Deeter, PhD, infectious diseases scientific partner at Roche Diagnostics, said in a press release "It's important to know that PCR testing is the best option for early detection when treatment is most effective."

The survey also analyzed COVID-19 testing knowledge between different demographic groups. According to findings, most (85 percent) Gen Z patients are confused about PCR testing, thinking it’s not the most accurate testing compared to 71 percent of Millennials, 69 percent of Gen X, and 72 percent of Boomers.

This data comes as the US faces an influx of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). With at least three respiratory illnesses circulating, increasing patient education will be essential to facilitate testing access, the press release indicated.

However, confusion around testing options is one of many issues associated with COVID-19 testing. Alongside the lack of patient understanding, the healthcare industry has struggled with several other testing access barriers.

A 2020 study found that fear was one of the leading barriers to COVID-19 testing access. Harris Poll and Quest Diagnostics reported that 74 percent of patients who believed they needed a coronavirus test chose not to get one or delayed getting one, with 33 percent of those respondents saying fear of infection was a top deterrent to testing access.

While the push for COVID-19 home tests might alleviate those patient concerns, lack of patient health literacy and confusing COVID-19 test kit instruction poses a separate risk. A 2022 JAMA Internal Medicine article showed that confusing test kit instructions don’t make it clear what a patient should do after they receive a positive or negative test result.

“Users with a high pretest probability of disease should still quarantine even after receiving a negative test result,” the JAMA researchers emphasized. “If users ignore that probability, a negative test result may encourage behavior that is risky to them and others.”

But as they are written now, the instructions written in home COVID-19 test kits do not make that best practice clear, the analysis showed.

Dig Deeper on Patient data access

xtelligent Health IT and EHR