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COVID-19: At-home sample collection vs. at-home testing

The concept of at-home testing for COVID-19 sounds straightforward. But there's nuance to it that's important to understand. Right now, an at-home test for COVID-19 is not available, although there may be one coming soon. But in some areas, at-home sample collection is an option at this time.

In this week's "Answers From the Lab" podcast , William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic and president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, and Bobbi Pritt, M.D., chair of Mayo Clinic's Division of Clinical Microbiology, explain the difference between collecting a specimen sample at home to be used for COVID-19 testing versus performing a COVID-19 test at home.

Dr. Morice describes why an at-home test — where a patient actually performs the test and receives the result at home — has to be carefully developed to ensure accurate results.

"The FDA is being very thoughtful about that type of testing, because you have to be sure that individuals know how to actually collect the specimen if it's not being guided by a health care professional," Dr. Morice says. "For us in the lab, it also means we have to build quality checks into the test itself that we don't have to do if it's collected by a health care professional."

In addition, Dr. Pritt and Dr. Morice discuss why COVID-19 testing in a clinical setting may be more appropriate than at-home collection or testing for some people.

"If you have a lot of risk factors for severe disease with COVID — respiratory disease, COPD, asthma, severe diabetes, immunosuppression — we might prefer for you to come in," Dr. Morice says. "That's because the self-collected tests are probably not going to be quite as accurate as the ones collected in a health care setting. And if you have COVID, it's going to be important that you get supportive care, and you might be prioritized for treatment."

The conversation also includes a review of factors that can affect COVID-19 test results and how to ensure accurate testing. Answers From the Lab is a Mayo Clinic podcast that explores knowledge and advances in laboratory science. Recent episodes have featured a wide range of topics related to COVID-19, including testing, prevention, immunity and screening. You can listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Tracy Will

Tracy Will

Tracy Will is a Senior Communications Specialist at Mayo Clinic who focuses on copy editing, feature writing and project management.