UnitedHealth Group study finds self-administered COVID-19 tests as accurate as clinician-administered tests

A study led by UnitedHealth Group suggests that self-collected samples for COVID-19 testing are as effective as samples collected by clinicians.

Among 500 OptumCare patients in Washington state, the self-administered swabs were able to accurately detect the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in 90% of those who are positive, a rate that's consistent with physician-administered swabs, the insurance giant announced.

Using a self-administered method, patients themselves can swab the front part of the nostril or mid-nose, which is less uncomfortable than a traditional test in which a clinician inserts a swab farther into the nose. It also frees up much-need personal protective equipment for providers, UnitedHealth Group said.

As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its guidance on self-administered testing to allow the nationwide use of self-administered tests, UnitedHealth Group said. As such, the company is rolling out the tests at one of its hardest-hit Seattle clinics, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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“We know that broad, rapid and accurate testing is essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, yet the current clinician-administered process significantly limits testing capacity, puts frontline health care workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure, and is unpleasant for patients,” said study lead Yuan-Po Tu, M.D., an infectious disease expert at The Everett Clinic, part of OptumCare. 

“Making simple, patient-administered testing widely available will substantially improve testing efficiency, while protecting health care workers and preserving urgently needed personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gowns and gloves," Tu said.

A number of digital health companies have launched home testing solutions as the number of tests available nationwide is limited. Everlywell, Nurx and Scanwell Health are among the companies offering home kits.

However, these companies were stymied by the FDA amid concern about fake testing kids and bad actors in the market.