As Canadians strap on wearable health monitors or use apps to track their runs or steps, one thing is clear: they’re interested in monitoring their health.
A new program in Alberta aims to connect people even more closely with their health by introducing diagnostic testing in pharmacies and doctors’ offices. Access Point of Care Diagnostics, an Edmonton-based accredited lab founded and operated by a physician-led team, is partnering with a growing list of pharmacies and physicians’ offices to offer rapid testing within the facility for COVID-19, infectious diseases, glucose levels, cholesterol and more.
“We already do things like hypertension management and blood-pressure monitoring within the pharmacy. With this testing, we can help people achieve the best therapy possible,” says Pamela Lavold, a pharmacist who is introducing the testing at the Medicine Shoppe location she owns in Edmonton.
What is point of care testing?
Point of care testing takes some of the most common health tests normally done in a laboratory setting and conducts them in a pharmacy or physician’s office instead. The tests are done with portable blood analyzers that give rapid results — in under 15 minutes for most tests.
Lavold says offering testing within her pharmacy gives her more information, faster. A patient who recently changed their cholesterol medication to improve their cardiovascular health, for instance, could come back to the pharmacy after three months and pay for a test to see how effective the medication change had been.
“We could do that in six minutes and then we can make a choice about whether we’re going to continue with that therapy or move onto something else,” Lavold says.
Why does point of care testing make sense now?
Dr. Todd McMullen says shifts in the Alberta health-care system have helped make space for point of care testing.
“There’s been a centralization of lab services, and those services have moved away from smaller population centres with less than 50,000 people. For example, a lot of people in rural areas have to travel significant distances for testing,” says McMullen, who is a surgeon and endocrinologist and chairman of the board with Access Point of Care.
Following the pandemic, being able to get health information faster is key for many patients. “Getting people to labs was a bit of an issue during the pandemic,” Lavold says. “One big complaint about booking appointments in labs is there’s a significant time delay. Not everybody wants to go and sit in the lab — there’s still some hesitancy with COVID. So this allows people to have a choice.”
How point of care testing helps patients
Point of care testing programs can help alleviate travel times to farther-flung labs, since the testing is done at pharmacies and doctors’ offices many patients are already visiting. Patients can also have tests done outside limited laboratory hours. That might mean no more heading to the emergency room in the night with a child with suspected strep throat or not having to navigate getting an aging parent to a city centre for cholesterol testing.
More opportunities to get testing done could mean healthier outcomes, too. “There’s data demonstrating that one-third of patients or more won’t follow through with their blood work because of limited access,” McMullen says. “If people feel empowered and they have control over how testing is done, the adherence to therapy is so much higher.”
The benefit for pharmacies offering rapid testing services is also clear, according to Lavold. “We can manage people’s health better with this,” she says. “And it also shows that as pharmacists, we’re really involved in all aspects of health care.”
To learn more about point of care testing or find a pharmacy or doctor’s office near you offering this service, visit Access Point of Care.