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What is POCT?
When you see a doctor and they order some blood tests, a specimen of your blood will be taken and the sample will go off to a laboratory to be analysed along with many other patient samples. As well as doing all the tests on your blood sample, the laboratory, depending upon its size, will generally have the capability to handle a wide range of different tests, possibly on hundreds or thousands of samples a day.
This is called central laboratory testing and it has developed in order to provide high quality testing at relatively low cost (Figure 1).
There is an alternative to this type of testing where instead of a sample of blood being taken from a vein, a smaller sample is taken from your finger and it is tested where you are located, maybe in the GP practice or even in your home. This is called Point-of-Care Testing or PoCT, and it takes various different forms as shown in Figure 2.
There are other names for this type of testing. If you are testing in your own home it might be called home testing. Sometimes it is referred to as near-patient testing. The overall aim of PoCT is to provide a test result much more quickly than when a blood sample is sent to a central laboratory.
For more explanation take a look at this animation:
How common is PoCT in Australia?
The most common form of PoCT is someone with diabetes who is taking insulin and who are measuring their blood glucose at home, sometimes several times a day, using a glucose meter (shown below) in order to guide their insulin dose. Glucose would also be measured in many different healthcare locations using similar glucose meters.
Above is an example of a typical, handheld, glucose meter used to measure glucose on a fingerstick sample. (Image courtesy of Roche Diagnostics)
Another common example is if you are taking warfarin and you need to have your INR test done to check that your prothrombin level is in the correct range. Some people will do this themselves at home but many others will go to their GP who will perform this test in their practice rather than have their patients go to a laboratory collection centre.
PoCT also takes place in hospitals themselves even where a central laboratory is located. Critical care units such as Intensive Care Units all have their own testing equipment to measure a range of critical tests such as oxygen and carbon dioxide.
As Figure 2 (Point-of-Care Testing) indicates, there are other places where PoCT may be performed, including specialist rooms and small rural hospitals that do not have an onsite laboratory. Nurses and other healthcare workers who work in very remote locations often need to be able to test on-site and you may have seen that your local pharmacist may be offering PoCT, probably for lipids and maybe HbA1C.
Around Australia it has been estimated that about eight to 10 million point-of-care tests are performed each year. This is small compared to the number of tests done by central laboratories but the volume of PoCT is expected to grow.
PoCT is considered by some to be part of what is collectively known as digital health which includes services such as the digital health record, called My Health Record, and the many health related Apps which are now available on mobile phone or tablet devices. The aim of all such services is to provide a more consumer or patient-friendly experience that in the long term will enable the patient to better manage their own health.
Last Review Date: June 29, 2020
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