The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has changed a lot of things about medicine in the short-term, shutting down many clinics outside of hospitals and ICUs, and ushering in a new era of telemedicine visits for millions of patient visits.
Diagnostic COVID-19 Testing
We have focused a lot of our attention to date on diagnostic testing to determine who has the virus, which is a critical part of controlling the spread of disease and isolating those who are infected. That will continue to be important in the U.S. with virus numbers still at a high number, but as new cases plateau and begin to decline, the next step will be determining how widespread the virus truly was to help determine the next phase of our approach.
Diagnostic testing centers around detecting active viral material in an infected person, mostly using nasal swabs (some of which are infamously invasive). These tests identify viral material in the nasal passages, allowing public health officials to determine who should be isolated or quarantined to prevent the spread of disease.
We have seen that the SARS-CoV-2 virus impacts different people in different ways, so some experience severe disease and even death, while others have only mild symptoms or none at all. These asymptomatic carriers are perhaps some of the most dangerous because they can still spread the virus without knowing they are even infected. The best evidence to date suggests that as many as 80% of people infected have few or no symptoms.
For that reason, healthcare providers may want to recommend to patients that they get tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Research suggests these antibodies are present in people who experienced the virus, whether or not they showed symptoms at the time. These tests can help individuals determine their exposure and risk, especially if they need to resume activities like going back to work.
Next Steps for Healthcare Clinics & Patients
Researchers have not determined whether antibodies can protect against future infections and if they can, what level of antibodies are necessary for protection or how long that protection might last. Patients need to be aware that a positive antibody test doesn’t guarantee immunity from the virus, and they should still exercise caution and practice all the same safety measures (handwashing, wearing a mask, and social distancing) whenever possible.
Healthcare clinics can also find more information on what tests are available to test for antibodies and be able to recommend those tests to your patients. You can also consider making those tests available at your clinic but should find out more about lab billing for COVID-19 to ensure that you can ensure proper medical coding and billing to get reimbursed for any tests you provide.