In-Clinic vs At-Home Health Testing: What Labs Should Know

As at-home healthcare is increasingly adopted by all types of healthcare organizations, understanding the key differences between in-clinic and at-home health testing are critical to deciding which testing modalities are the right fit for your organization. 

Most lab managers and directors can surmise the most obvious distinctions between in-clinic and at-home testing. The central difference is in the location where the sample is collected. In traditional health testing models, patients go to a clinic for whatever sample collection is necessary, be it a blood draw or another sample type. In at-home models, patients receive a test kit containing sample collection material or, in some cases, a visit from a licensed phlebotomist. 

But there are other key differences between at-home and in-clinic testing that lab managers should take into account when deciding on their business strategy.

Diagnostics Done Traditionally

Industry experts are already well-acquainted with the conventional model of health testing. Since diagnostic health testing became viable for the public at large, process flow hasn’t evolved much. The technology improves and the number of biomarkers capable of being analyzed expands, but the structure remains the same: doctors order tests, patients go to clinics to have samples collected, the lab analyzes said samples, then sends the results directly back to the doctor. 

The typical diagnostics model is tried and true, though it is not without its shortcomings. Many labs are still operating on an analogue health testing model, with many still not utilizing a fully integrated or digitized model. This can lead to inefficiencies, delays, and incomplete tests– around 30% of all diagnostic tests ordered aren’t filled due to a variety of barriers to access for patients. 

Some preliminary research comparing in-clinic to at-home testing has been done. Initial findings showed that testing effectiveness and accuracy did not suffer in comparison to in-clinic testing. In terms of efficacy, in-clinic and at-home testing methods are virtually identical. 

But what advantage does at-home testing have over traditional modalities? 

Patients love it.

A Patient-Centric Approach to Health Testing

In the same study – which looked at the effectiveness and accuracy of at-home testing methods used to measure INR levels – it was found that patients who received the at-home tests reported a far more positive experience. They completed tests faster, and even those with no self-collection testing experience had no issues attaining a viable sample. Effectiveness and accuracy remained the same as in-clinic testing, but patient satisfaction went up. 

Other studies have found similar results. A study comparing at-home versus in-clinic STI testing found that patients were more engaged, more likely to complete tests and faster. For most individuals, self-collection and testing of urine or vaginal specimens at home was considered to be easy, acceptable, and preferred over testing at a clinic.

At-home testing options remove a variety of barriers to access, such as transportation and work restrictions. In the case of STI testing specifically, at-home testing can overcome the social stigma associated with being checked for sexually transmitted infections, encouraging more people to test more frequently. Widespread at-home STI testing could lead to a dramatic drop in sexually transmitted diseases, simply because patients enjoy the easy access and privacy the tests provide. 

Additionally, at-home testing saves patients money. In the same STI study, patients tested in-clinic had an average of $62 in associated travel costs, such as gas or subway fare. Patients who tested at home paid a flat rate of $25 and sent their test directly to the lab in a prepaid shipping label. In addition to saving time and increasing engagement, patients also prefer the lower expense associated with at-home testing. 

The Key Differences

When it comes to patient engagement and experience, at-home testing is the clear champion. Patients are more likely to complete testing, which is a great boon for clinical trials, and accuracy isn’t impacted. Additionally, at-home testing can create a streamlined experience for providers and patients; a series of integrations ensures that information flows quickly. 

The entire healthcare industry is built around creating more effective treatments and a better care experience for patients. Providers won’t be able to ignore the clear advantages at-home testing has, and are already beginning to implement direct to consumer health testing within their practices. In-clinic testing certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, but laboratories should be prepared for their clients to begin asking about remote diagnostic options. 

Both remote and onsite testing will have a part to play in the future of health testing, but labs should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of each model in order to determine the best path forward for future business growth. 

Learn more about remote diagnostics

Still curious about the latest developments in at-home health testing? Check out our blog, Remote Diagnostics Regulations: What to Know, or download our webinar: Remote Testing: New Avenues of Revenue Growth for Diagnostic Labs.