The worldwide response to COVID-19 has been unprecedented and, likely, is a harbinger of things to come. Never before have so many countries united in a common effort to thwart a biological danger. Prompt action and shared information between various nation’s health agencies has helped restrict the spread of the virus. At the heart of every response has been insistence on swift and widespread testing, which is bound to increase with the next viral outbreak. Being able to meet the overwhelming demand for fast and accurate testing will be one legacy of COVID-19. The processes developed globally for this crisis will be the benchmark for responding to the next pandemic.
Being able to meet testing demand will require new thinking and deployment of available tools. IoT technologies such as RFID and BLE are available now and can help speed up the entire testing process by providing real-time location visibility, minimizing human intervention, and the tracking of all sample movements through their journey from patient to test. The greater the reliance on automated sample tracking that minimizes human intervention, the greater the throughput of samples in the system. With first-hand reports of COVID-19 testing taking over two weeks to return results, the implications of delayed results are obvious. Unconfirmed and unidentified positives lead to greater disease spread as unconfirmed carriers spend more time moving through society. For social distancing and other mitigation efforts to have maximum effect, test results must be delivered accurately and swiftly.
IoT technologies can be implemented throughout the life cycle of a test sample. Placing a low-cost RFID label on a vial initiates the sample into the system. From there it can be automatically tracked as it is collected, transported, registered and processed; eliminating the time needed to have a person locate and scan each barcode. In addition to speeding up the process, the technology can also increase process security – reducing misplaced samples, triggering alerts when vials move in an irregular or unapproved way, and locating missing samples with a search feature. All told, the results are increased production and improved visibility to where each test sample is within a testing lab.
It is important to note that these solutions can also be leveraged for other forms of specimen tracking today. The technology and processes used for the tracking of COVID-19 testing can be easily applied to other forms of testing concurrently with or in the post COVID-19 environment. Competitive pressures, capacity limitations, increasing test volumes and budget constraints are all bearing down on today’s lab managers. Their need to automate and streamline operations is a continual process, even under normal circumstances. The use of IoT technology is a natural extension of previous lab automation practices, and one that is scalable, allowing them to invest minimally to start and expand as needed.
Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID-19 and one is not anticipated for some time. Until then, the need for abundant testing will only increase as the population endeavors to return to a less restrictive lifestyle. Some forecasts predict that millions of people may require weekly testing at some point to control the disease’s spread. Current lab capacity is not designed for such an environment. As testing firms start planning for how they will handle this as well as future demand, the use of IoT technology should be a pivotal part of those discussions.
Hopefully, the world will not experience another pandemic like COVID-19 for some time, but the lessons learned from it can be applied even in less catastrophic situations. Any testing facility should consider how they would handle an unanticipated rush on their services. Could they handle the volume? Likewise, is such an emergency the only rationale to improving testing capacity and security? How could IoT impact your operations today while preparing you for a COVID-19-like incident of tomorrow? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to start that conversation.