We live in an increasingly interconnected world in which instant communication and immediate access to information are the norm and digital technology blends seamlessly into our daily lives.
According to the United Nations’ ICT agency, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 4.1 billion people now use the Internet – that’s 53.6 percent of the global population. What’s more, 93 percent now live within reach of a 3G (or higher) network. This means that for most people connectivity is no longer a buzzword, it is a basic expectation.
People’s demands are evolving
End users expect convenient and flawless experiences with the products and services with which they interact.
As digital technology becomes smarter, it is also becoming less visible and intrusive. Devices that connect and pair wirelessly are becoming commonplace and seamless integration is becoming the key driver for success.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought connectivity to many physical objects around us. From connected fridges and cars to entire cities, the IoT is creating new opportunities in almost all markets.
Soon, the wider adoption of 5G technology will bring even more advantages, delivering hugely increased computing speeds that will allow end users to deliver and receive data anywhere in near real-time.
This means businesses that can provide connectivity through devices and platforms in a way that is simple, intuitive and easily accessible now have the ability to redefine the digital experience.
How does this relate to rapid lateral flow diagnostics?
The medical diagnostics market is no different. A growing number of emerging technology companies and some more established ones are already supplying data capture and connectivity tools for the medical device sector.
While it is reassuring to see efforts and resources being put into developing rapid diagnostic tests, particularly point-of-care tests, the coronavirus pandemic further highlights the real-world need for digitally connected, data-driven rapid diagnostics.
Lateral flow is one of the preferred testing methods thanks to its portability, affordability and ability to give lab-quality results anywhere – even in a carpark – in minutes rather than hours.
But to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to make tracking and tracing more effective, we have to go beyond testing. We have to start capturing the data now.
Lateral flow technology has evolved and is now generating much more sophisticated results. These results along with additional data must be captured if we want to keep communities safe while keeping economies open.
And the first step to producing better outcomes with the help of data is to wirelessly connect lateral flow tests and readers to a central reporting database.
Why do we need connectivity?
Connectivity reveals boundless possibilities. It means test results and epidemiological data can be collected and stored in the cloud, and as it aggregates, it can have a positive knock on effect on other developments, such as vaccines.
Data is changing everything and now it’s enabling this new world of connected diagnostics. When fully deployed, these new-world diagnostics are powerful enough to inform new disease prevention strategies, personalized treatment and infection control. In the future, data can be used to build models for predicting outbreaks.
Data already has a significant commercial value, and eventually perhaps even greater than the revenue from the tests themselves.
In short, connectivity and data aren’t going away any time soon - in fact, they will only become more and more important for rapid diagnostics. The companies collecting it now are already ahead of the curve.
So, what can a connected test do?
Adding digital connectivity to a test means you’ve straight away transformed a simple test into a very powerful end-to-end data management system. Using this system, end users get instant visual feedback through easy to use mobile and web applications.
Using the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as an example, it’s clear to see that the advantages of digitally connected rapid lateral flow diagnostic tests are numerous:
- Instant results: Live, geo-mapped test results can be instantly uploaded to a secure cloud database, removing manual data entry errors.
- Enhanced data: Simultaneous capture of critical epidemiological data such as age, gender, BMI, blood group, underlying health conditions and GPS location can help to better understand the nature of the virus.
- Shareable data: Live, geo-mapped results enable public health services globally to see the effects of the virus in real time and more efficiently deploy resources on the ground, such as healthcare staff, further diagnostic tests, medicines and vaccines.
- Traceability: Authorities can test, track and trace the spread of the virus and alert users of possible infection risks. Patient contact details (such as mobile phone number and e-mail) can be simultaneously recorded in a data protection compliant way (e.g. Europe’s GDPR).
It is also very important to include clear Instructions For Use (IFU), because if a person cannot use the test properly it does not matter how good the sensitivity or specificity is.
With all this, you have a complete end-to-end system for the detection, management and control of any infectious disease.
The world is only just starting to realize the potential impact connectivity and data can have on lateral flow diagnostics.
With the coronavirus pandemic and the need for mass testing bringing medical diagnostics to global attention, now is the time for companies working in this area to lead the charge and define the future.
Phil Groom is commercial director of Bond Digital Health, a digital health company based in Wales, UK, that offers end-to-end digital platforms to transform lateral flow tests.