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This medical test startup may soon have approval for a home test for COVID-19

Scanwell Health—a winner of Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards—is helping to enable a switch to telehealth that’s not only doctor consultation, but testing as well. And it couldn’t be coming at a more important moment.

This medical test startup may soon have approval for a home test for COVID-19
[Photo: courtesy Scanwell Health]

If it gets approval from the FDA, a new test will make it possible to test to see if you’ve ever had COVID-19, without leaving your house. Using just a drop of blood from your finger and two drops of solution in the test kit. The results show up in 15 minutes. The test, which looks for antibodies and was widely used by Chinese doctors, isn’t as accurate as molecular tests that use complex lab equipment. But it could play an important role in monitoring and preventing the spread of the disease.

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The test is the latest from Scanwell Health, a startup focused on home diagnostics for healthcare and the winner of the health and wellness category of Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards. The company’s first test, an FDA-cleared at-home test for urinary tract infections that connects patients with same-day treatment, came to market in 2019.

[Photo: courtesy Scanwell Health]

“The delivery of healthcare, and especially diagnostics, is still done through the central lab model,” says founder Stephen Chen. “I think the more you can increase accessibility to diagnostics and make that more accessible, you’re able to not only empower patients but it actually also helps drive cost savings and efficiency to the healthcare system.”

In the case of the coronavirus crisis, keeping more patients at home can also save lives, potentially infected patients can stay out of hospitals and clinics, protecting people there, and those who aren’t sick can avoid infection. The test—adapted for home use from an existing test from China—would also let people know if they had had the virus and were asymptomatic, as some people seem to be.

Ultimately, the startup wants to help enable a larger transition to telehealth. “We really see the future of healthcare delivery being delivered through more convenient means like telehealth,” Chen says. “But the part that we’re focused on, and the part that’s lagging, is that diagnostic piece. Most telehealth providers, when they need a blood sample or a urine sample or diagnostic, then have to tell their patients to go to a lab. That’s the gap we want to fill.”

The UTI test is a prime example. Patients can get treatment for the condition—something that’s responsible for 10 million doctor visits a year—without leaving home.”It basically replicates the performance of an in-clinic urine analyzer,” says Chen. Patients with a suspected UTI pee on the same type of test strip that healthcare workers would put in an analyzer at a clinic; at home, patients use a smartphone app to process the results and instantly learn if they need an antibiotic, which a doctor can prescribe through the system. More than 10,000 people have used it so far. Earlier this year, as the coronavirus spread, the company made the test free to help increase its use and keep people away from doctor’s offices.

Another test in progress will help screen and monitor early-stage chronic kidney disease, an illness that can be asymptomatic, so patients often don’t realize there’s a problem until it’s too late and they have to start dialysis. “Data has shown lifestyle intervention and medication early on can help stem the progression of the disease,” he says.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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