Amid fear, shortage of staff and kits, pvt. labs think out of the box

Innovative: A ‘lab on wheels’ by Thyrocare started on Thursday to ease sample collection.

Innovative: A ‘lab on wheels’ by Thyrocare started on Thursday to ease sample collection.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

People reluctant to allow technicians into their homes, push labs for faster test results

A lockdown is just as difficult for private laboratories authorised to carry out COVID-19 tests as it is for most other service providers. If residents are reluctant to let technicians wearing protective gear into their homes, supply of testing kits and reagents is patchy, and staff is staying away.

But adversity, as they say, incubates innovation. On Thursday, one of the laboratories started a ‘lab on wheels’ as a pilot in Mumbai.

“A technician sitting inside the specially designed ambulance will only have to take out his hands to collect the swab. The person who is getting tested will stand outside the vehicle,” said Dr. A. Velumani, managing director of Thyrocare, which has evolved the model and will be running a three-day pilot.

“We had discussed it with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and they have given us the go-ahead,” he said.

Metropolis Laboratory, meanwhile, is planning to start 12 exclusive COVID-19 sample collection centres soon. “I am keen on starting drive-through centres, where a person can drive to a point and give his samples while sitting inside the car. This concept has been started in Dubai. Another concept in South Korea involves simply having collection booths with a technician inside. When a person comes for testing, only the technician’s hand comes out of the booth to take the swab,” said Dr. Nilesh Shah of Metropolis Laboratory.

“These concepts also save on the personal protective equipment,” he said.

People fear that they will be stigmatised by neighbours and society members if they find out that they have been tested. When the BMC kickstarted the home-testing initiative, many technicians faced hurdles in entering societies. Some even cancelled appointments after learning that technicians will come wearing personal protective equipment. Nevertheless, civic officials said, more than 1,000 samples were collected from homes till Wednesday.

“Executing home visits has been challenging. Commuting in the lockdown is also a problem but it is getting streamlined now. I would say that almost 98% of people are happy with the convenience of home collection of samples. There is only a small percentage of people who are concerned about their confidentiality,” Dr. Shah said.

Health Minister Rajesh Tope recently said the 13 government laboratories and eight private laboratories can test nearly 5,500 samples a day. He said 7,126 tests had been carried out in Maharashtra till date. But some private laboratories were advised to stop collecting samples as they did not have testing kits and reagents, which delayed the reports.

Any delay in receiving reports leads to overburdening the field staff who are carrying out contact tracing, as a COVID-19-positive patient may continue to mingle. “Some labs had too much load and the testing kits did not suffice. So, it was recommended to stop sample collection for a day and then resume,” Dr. Velumani said. A consignment of testing kits and reagents is expected to arrive on Friday.

According to Dr. Shah, they stopped the collection of samples on Sunday and resumed on Wednesday.

As per guidelines, private laboratories can convey negative reports directly to the customer. However, in case of a positive report, the laboratories have to first inform government officials.

In Mumbai, the laboratories alert the BMC first. Once samples are collected, people are anxious to know the result. In one case, a man awaiting his report threatened to commit suicide if the laboratory did not convey the results soon. In another case in the city, a person threatened legal action for causing him anxiety.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 8:05:03 AM |

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