The Covid-19 pandemic continues to worsen, as case numbers continue to rise globally. Vaccines have started to roll out, but widespread adoption is expected to take months. In the meantime, mass testing and social distancing remain key weapons to control the disease spread. Newly approved at-home Covid-19 tests provide much-needed support and a potential glimpse into the future of healthcare.

Covid-19 cases have seen a global surge in recent weeks, with many countries now in the middle of a second wave that has sparked renewed lockdown protocols. The recent vaccine approvals and early rollouts have been a cause for celebration, but widespread adoption is expected to take months, if not years. In the meantime, healthcare systems are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by a flood of new cases. Nearly one year into the pandemic, basic measures like mass testing and social distancing are more important than ever before.

The recent approvals of Covid-19 at-home tests should provide some welcome relief for healthcare systems while supporting contact tracing efforts. Lucira Health ’s single-use Lucira Covid-19 All-In-One Test Kit was given an emergency use authorisation (EUA) by the FDA in mid-November. This kit relies on a self-collected nasal swab and a test unit, and it provides results within 30 minutes. Similarly, Ellume ’s recently approved Covid-19 Home Test uses a test unit that flows antibodies over a self-collected nasal swab to detect Covid-19 antigens. Both tests tout over 90% accuracy, but still carry risks of false negatives and false positives.

Regardless, these tests will reduce the burden on testing centres, many of which were already facing long lines. This should result in increased testing overall, as potential Covid-19 patients can now be easily tested at home, freeing up additional testing centre and laboratory resources. Additionally, decreasing the waiting lines at testing centres should lower transmission risk.

These tests are the latest to allow for a more decentralised healthcare model, where procedures are increasingly shifted from hospitals to more local care centres or even to the home. This shift is expected to increase patient care, as waitlists at busy hospitals and travel distance to a care centre are reduced, while potentially decreasing costs. Hospital outpatient clinics tend to charge significantly higher rates for the same procedure compared to ambulatory surgery centres (ASCs). Understanding this, major hospital operators like Tenet have already begun to invest more in ASCs.

However, there are some remaining risks associated with any decentralised model of healthcare. Patients need to be better educated so they can understand where to go to treat different ailments. Medical devices will need to improve, ensuring that procedures being conducted and diagnoses being given in ASCs or at home are as accurate as those in well-equipped hospitals. Still, it is possible that this response to the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a glimpse into the future of healthcare.