BOSTON — The shelves of most pharmacies are filled with “at-home” tests, like those that check blood sugar levels and for pregnancy.
One that isn’t available over the counter is the test to check for strep throat.
However, every family at Westwood-Mansfield Pediatric Associates is offered a test each year. The kit contains a swab, a tongue depressor, solution and a well to hold fluid and the swab while the test is being conducted.
WATCH: Local doctor explains why he's pushing for 'at home' strep tests
Dr. Lester Hartman said he started the program a few years ago to make better use of his time. “The priority for us in medicine is to deal with the more complicated kids and wellness prevention,” explained the veteran pediatrician. “And a lot of that means trying to focus more on chronic diseases and wellness checkups, and less on acute, non-urgent visits.” Those include routine strep tests, which were coming back negative 75 percent of the time. Those tests were forcing parents to make co-payments. A few parents gave us mixed reactions when asked whether they would be comfortable doing the test at home. MIT Medical was recently part of a parental survey, which found a majority of them were comfortable performing the test after watching a short instructional video. More importantly, the accuracy of their results were similar to those of a medical professional. Dr. David Diamond, associate medical director at MIT Medical, noted the trend in medicine is to empower patients to get more involved in their own health care. “It seemed like the strep test would be yet another advance in that regard," he added. The test isn’t yet licensed to be sold over the counter. But it is readily available online.
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Hartman admits not all practices will encourage patients to use it. “Medicine is still being paid per visit, rather than incentivizing us to look at the whole, holistic picture of a patient, and being funded in that way,” he said. Both Dr. Hartman and Dr. Diamond believe the risks with this test are low. We spoke to two other pediatricians at local teacher hospitals agreed. Historically, untreated strep has been linked to Rheumatic Fever and Scarlet Fever. Dr. Hartman said that risk has been blown out of proportion and is not a concern for the general public. Although the policy at Westwood-Mansfield Pediatric Associates is to supply one kit a year free of charge, they say any family that doesn’t want to participate is welcome to bring their child in to be tested.
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