Why testing should be top of mind for health plans even amid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

While health plans have had to focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to ensure members are continuing to access testing services, both for the virus and for more routine evaluations—or face a crush of demand in the future.

As COVID-19 testing efforts ramped up and the pandemic dragged on, both health plans and patients themselves put less of an emphasis on these tests, so they "languished," Sean Slovenski, CEO of diagnostic testing firm BioIQ, told Fierce Healthcare in an interview. 

Continuing to push off routine tests could lead to another wave of requests that slam laboratories and testing facilities, he said. 

"The worry now is that there is going to be a huge bolus of people that have been blowing off their routine testing scrambling to get it done now," Slovenski said. "Is there a chance that we can overwhelm the entire diagnostic system again?"

Slovenski said in working with health plans on this issue, BioIQ is counseling them to stay aggressive on COVID-19 while also pushing now for members to start thinking about their routine diagnostics.

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A pileup of delayed testing could not only swamp laboratories but could lead to frustrated consumers who aren't able to get tests when they need or want them.

"Start going now so you can get ahead of this and try not to get caught up in a massive backlog," he said.

The need for a strategy to deal with these routine tests is compounded by the fact that the rollout of a vaccine has been slower than many anticipated, he said. And such a plan needs to be a long-term one, he said, as the vaccine rollout could take a year or longer.

A key tool in the arsenal in getting at this challenge has been the growing list of home testing kits available both for COVID-19 and for other, more routine diagnostic tests.

Slovenski said that under the pandemic, compliance rates with BioIQ's home testing options have been double or triple typical usage, as people have fewer options for ways to get these tests.

The company has also seen participation among rural and minority patients that is two to three times higher than normal, he said.

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Interest in these testing options isn't likely to fully subside even when the pandemic is under control, he said. For instance, there are rapid home tests for conditions like the flu or strep throat in development that could eliminate the need for in-person testing altogether for these illnesses.

There could be a future where labs are largely focused on more complex diagnostics such as biopsies or blood analysis, he said.

As such, health plans should also be thinking now about the long term and how to slot such tests into a care management platform that is appealing to their members. Some are using local branding to make these options more welcoming, for example.

If a home test is offered in a way that links it back to the physician a patient is already comfortable with, they may, in tandem, be more comfortable with the new technologies, Slovenski said.

The end goal should be a cohesive and seamless patient experience, he said.

"How does this tie together so that the customer, the patient, feels like they have consistency?" he said.