Self-testing for an early diagnosis
The last ten years have seen a growing trend towards patient self-testing. Thanks to the advances of technology, fewer people are now turning to their GP clinic as their first point of call for healthcare screening, and rather opting for DIY self-test kits, which can be performed in the privacy and comfort of their own home.
From the first home pregnancy test which hit the shelves in the late 1970s, the market for medical self-testing devices has grown considerably. Patients now have the option of self-screening for a variety of healthcare concerns, including bowel cancer, coeliac disease, underactive thyroid and sexually transmitted infections.
Most recently, the first legally approved HIV self-test kit became available in England, Scotland and Wales. Its arrival sparked optimism for an increase in early HIV diagnosis, and a reduction in the number of people living with undiagnosed HIV in the UK.
From a patient’s perspective, self-test kits offer convenience. They also appeal to those people who are reluctant to seek formal healthcare screening due to factors including fear, embarrassment or an aversion for wasting medic time.
For the community at large, the accessibility of medical self-test kits is a potential breakthrough for societal health conditions. By encouraging more people to conduct regular self-testing, less illnesses may be left undetected, leading the way for treatment to start earlier, conditions to be managed quicker and, in the case of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, the number of preventable transmissions could be potentially reduced.
In the absence of a medical consult, self-testing information must be easily accessible, and form part of the self-testing practice. People need to be well-equipped with a good knowledge of the test’s limitations, an understanding of the support available to them and advice on next-steps in the case of a positive result. It is important to remember that self-test results are not a medical diagnosis, and patients should always follow-up with a healthcare professional if they are experiencing ongoing symptoms or if they are uncertain about their result.
Self-test kits are placing more power in the hands of patients to monitor their own health, ultimately creating greater prospects for early diagnosis and better health management. However, providing patients with easy access to medical self-testing is not a stand-alone driver for early diagnosis. Medical professionals, healthcare companies and communicators need to work in unity to ensure people are well-educated on the symptoms to look out for, understand the options available to them, and are supported throughout and beyond the self-testing process.