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UnitedHealth Group Study Supports Self-Administered COVID-19 Testing

March 26, 2020

UnitedHealth Group and OptumCare clinicians conducted a study which found that patient-collected COVID-19 testing can be just as effective as a clinician-administered test, which has the potential to limit health care workers’ exposure.

The study, completed in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the University of Washington and Quest Diagnostics, comprised nearly 500 patients in Washington state being treated at OptumCare facilities. Results showed that self-administered swab tests accurately detected COVID-19 in more than 90% of positive patients, which UnitedHealth Group stated is in line with current clinician-administered statistics.

“We know that broad, rapid and accurate testing is essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, yet the current clinician-administered process significantly limits testing capacity, puts frontline health care workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure, and is unpleasant for patients,” said lead study author Yuan-Po Tu, MD, an infectious disease expert at The Everett Clinic, part of OptumCare.

Results of this study prompted the US Food and Drug Administration to update its guidance regarding self-administered COVID-19 testing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents the health care system with extraordinary challenges that need to be addressed quickly. While working on the front lines of our clinical care facilities in Washington state, Dr. Tu saw an opportunity to improve COVID-19 testing and rallied the expertise and resources of UnitedHealth Group to complete the study in less than one week,” said Ken Ehlert, chief scientific officer of UnitedHealth Group.

The self-administered testing is also less invasive—patients need only swap the front of their nostril to mid-nose. Current testing requires a health care worker to collect samples from deep in the nasal cavity, requiring protective equipment for each worker.

“Making simple, patient-administered testing widely available will substantially improve testing efficiency, while protecting health care workers and preserving urgently needed personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gowns and gloves.” said Dr Tu.

 —Edan Stanley


UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth Group Study Clears Path for Self-Administered COVID-19 Test, Improving Testing Efficiency and Protecting Health Care Workers [press release]. Published March 25, 2020. Accessed March 26, 2020.


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