New thinking on the concept of the Value of Diagnostic Information (VODI) guides many countries today as they shape tomorrow’s national healthcare strategies. A number of studies1 and recent policy discussions conclude that the precise insights provided by medical diagnostics will help focus health services more sharply on helping patients to manage their disease and treatment journeys, reducing costs in the process.
To detect, identify and characterise bacteria, virus, parasitic, and fungus-based diseases, clinical laboratories typically use time-consuming observational methods, such as culture, body fluid, and biochemical tests. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology – which rapidly analyses a small sample of DNA to pinpoint the presence of a disease – is changing the world of diagnostics. Since 2020, PCR testing has gained worldwide recognition for its use in rapidly testing millions of people for COVID-19 in the world’s national control programmes.
Because these tests deliver reliable and actionable information, they have emerged as the go-to technique for clinical laboratories. Today, PCR tests can identify and track conditions ranging from central nervous system infections such as encephalitis and meningitis, pulmonary and cardiac infections, gastrointestinal infections such as enteritis and hepatitis, bloodstream and systemic infections, and even measure a person’s viral load for HIV and hepatitis.
Overall, this diagnostic innovation is expected to continue to grow in popularity, reducing costs to healthcare systems, and improving the efficiency of treatment and disease management as more options for patient self-testing emerge.
Infectious diseases and the potential of future pandemics are a reality that all leaders of all health systems need to live with. If countries are to effectively control the spread of these diseases – and help affected patients manage their illness – they need the ability to rapidly diagnose and respond to outbreaks.
Countries with action plans in place will be more likely to reduce the risk of infectious diseases across society. Once a threat is diagnosed, disease prevention and management interventions can be rolled out to combine simple practices with medical treatments. One of the crucial management interventions is to ensure testing and analytical data continuously feed into the action plans. Experience from the COVID-19 pandemic shows how policies for diagnostics and prevention can work together. For example, the effectiveness of clear communication on practices, such as personal hygiene, social distancing or mask mandates that everyone can apply to reduce the spread of infection, increase status awareness with diagnostic testing, and how these practices complement vaccination programmes or access to other medicines.
The value of medical information, including diagnostics data, is emerging as a cornerstone of diagnosis and disease management. In addition, the analysis of diagnostics data – via artificial intelligence and machine learning – is creating a quantum shift in clinical insights. As such, it is now part of the conversation on how healthcare services can provide better quality disease management to their patients.