Deciphering the Jargon - What is Point of Care Testing?

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As a patient, you may have heard the term, "point of care testing" mentioned in conversation by the medical staff during your stay either overnight in a hospital or simply while visiting a clinic.

Point of care testing is one of those categories in medical care that can span from the hospital to the doctor's office to the patient's home. The category is wide and includes several types of blood and urine tests that can help test for a condition.

In some cases, it may be a check to get a status update on a chronic disease that you've been managing for some time, such as Type 2 Diabetes. In other cases, it could be a diagnostic test--one that determines whether you have a condition like a sexually transmitted disease, or strep throat.

Common Point of Care Tests

Common point of care tests measure or diagnose conditions such as:

  • alcohol intoxication
  • blood cholesterol levels, such as total cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and triglycerides
  • drug screening tests to see if their are drugs in a person's circulatory system
  • fecal occult blood tests, which test to see if there is hidden blood in the stool, which can indicate a serious health condition
  • glucose (blood sugar) levels and hemoglobin A1C, both of which are used to indicate diabetes
  •  H. pylori tests; H. pylori is a bacteria that can cause an infection in the stomach and can lead to stomach cancer
  • hematology analysis, which measure the white blood cells, red blood cells, platelet counting and absorption
  • hemoglobin tests, which check hemoglobin levels in the blood, necessary to monitor anemia and red blood cell disorders
  • HIV and other STD tests
  • influenza
  • infectious mononucleosis
  • pregnancy
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages
  • strep throat
  • urinalysis, which is a urine test to examine levels of Leukocytes, Nitrite, Urobilingen, Protein, pH, Blood, Specific Gravity, Ketones, Bilirubin, and Glucose in the urine
  • Amnio Test Swabs used to detect fetal membrane rupture
  • Adenovirus, which typically causes a respiratory infection
  • thyroid hormone levels, which control or regulate the body's metabolism
  • paternity tests

Point of Care Testing - The Process

The individual and specific process steps vary depending on the test. In general, a sample of some kind is taken from the body, such as urine, stool, blood, or a swab from the eye or throat. That sample is then put into some form of analyzer. The analyzer can take on a variety of forms that depend on what test you are performing. After the analyzer is run to completion, test results report out, either on a screen or on a print-out.

A few examples of tests that use urine as the sample to examine in the analyzer include some sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy tests, and some drug screening tests.

A few examples of tests that use blood as the sample that is put into an analyzer would be cholesterol, diabetes, blood cell counts and blood cell disorder testing.

A few examples of swab tests include the Adenovirus and strep.

An example of using a stool sample would be the fecal occult blood test.

Where Are Point of Care tests Done?

Point of care testing includes a broad category of tests. Some need to be done in a hospital, a doctor's office, or laboratory because the results need to be analyzed by lab specialists using complicated and expensive laboratory analyzing machines.

There are some over the counter tests that can be performed at home. Usually these test kits are recommended as an initial convenience test, but should be followed up by professional medical staff with more rigorous testing and analysis. A few common home test kits include blood glucose meters and test strips, as well as pregnancy tests.

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