Hospitals working to get rapid COVID-19 testing up to speed
ORILLIA, ONT. -- The rapid COVID-19 testing technology the Premier calls a "game-changer" isn't ready for its moment in the spotlight in Orillia.
For the last few weeks, lab technicians at Soldiers' Memorial Hospital have been test-driving ID NOW machines that promise results in as little as 15 minutes. But there's no immediate timeline for when they'll be used to help guide clinical decisions.
Hospital President and CEO Carmine Stumpo says they have been working with the Ministry of Health and Ontario Health to get up to speed.
"Our clinical experts need to understand exactly how to interpret the results, and our medical lab technicians need to know how to use the equipment," Stumpo says.
To help validate through rapid testing, Stumpo explains that some people being tested in Orillia are being swabbed twice. One swab will be sent to a Toronto lab, and results posted within a few days. The other swab is tested by ID NOW, a machine that looks like a compact instant coffee maker. Lab technicians then compare the results.
If proven reliable, having access to COVID-19 test results in minutes, not days, could be valuable for smaller, older hospitals like Soldiers' Memorial.
"(It) gives the clinician the opportunity to understand immediate treatment decisions. It helps the hospital understand what precautions are necessary for patients as they enter the hospital or as they get admitted."
If medical staff are able to quickly determine that a patient's laboured breathing isn't a symptom of coronavirus but something else, they may not need to make space for isolation.
Provincial officials have suggested rapid testing may be added in long-term care homes and schools. But in Orillia, those discussions are just beginning.
"We imagine that the testing criteria will change over time," says Stumpo. "As the tests become more available, and we know more about the tests, we will adapt with that."
Queen's Park plans to expand the rapid testing program to other parts of the province in December, but it's not clear when patients will start to see those faster results.