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Technological options for testing are expanding

September 1, 2007
by Stephen Leonard, PhD
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Drug abuse places a huge burden on society, with estimates suggesting an economic drain in the U.S. alone of more than $200 billion per year—and a human toll that is incalculable. This is why the role of treatment programs and medical clinics is so critical, and why any gains in efficiency and effectiveness are so valuable in helping very vulnerable patients.

Fortunately, there have been two major recent advancements for addiction professionals in the areas of drug testing and associated treatment: dramatic improvements in technology at the point of care and in the ability to manage patient information more effectively while connecting all stakeholders in patient care.

Point-of-care screening

Drug screening is vital when a patient enters a drug rehabilitation program. The most common test is urinalysis, performed using one of three methods: by using dipsticks and cups containing built-in test strips; by using a point-of-care instrument such as an analyzer; or by sending samples out to an off-site lab.

Each option has its own challenges or disadvantage. The dipstick/cup method requires human interpretation and offers only a one-dimensional result. This method does not yield the richness of information that today's addiction professionals need. Traditional point-of-care analyzers could not be operated without a high degree of user skill and also required frequent maintenance, troubleshooting, and reagent inventory management. Finally, sending the sample to an off-site lab while producing accurate results usually has meant a delay of several days in both analysis and care.

Recent advances in technology allow for on-site testing that can yield results within minutes. The point-of-care analyzer has evolved in quality, efficiency, and accuracy. For example, NOVX® Systems' iMDx™ Analyzer can be set up quickly; it is easy to use with little training required; there is no need to handle urine samples; and it provides sample identification and inputs patient information directly into the patient file through a case management system. These kinds of tools can benefit treatment professionals and patients by allowing for care that is more timely, more accurate, and more secure.

Case management software

Another longstanding challenge for addiction professionals lies in keeping records, ensuring those records are secure and accurate, and using them to track a patient's progress. This is where case management software can play a critical role. Unfortunately, most of this software is very general and not targeted to addiction professionals and their patients. But this too is changing fast.

Stephen leonard, phd

Stephen Leonard, PhD

In recent years there have been significant improvements in case management software for addiction professionals, seen not only in the offerings' comprehensiveness but also in the utility of the application itself. Software designers have put much effort into presentation of case data in more intuitive formats, such as graphs and tables. Even more important, each user type (counselor, nurse, etc.) can get the data in a format most relevant to the specific requirements of the job. For example, NOVX's PatientVu

TM case management software was engineered to allow the various users who access a file to get at the data most pertinent to them in an easy fashion.

One of the most exciting advancements can be seen in how today's best case management software can facilitate collaboration and information sharing among everyone involved in a patient's care—including physicians, nurses, counselors, or other stakeholders. At NOVX, we have found that ease of use and accessing files is critical. That is why we allow patient test results and other data to be accessed securely from remote locations using a Web browser or mobile handheld device.

Privacy and security considerations are also very important. PatientVu is compliant with HIPAA privacy guidelines, providing secure role-based access to authorized personnel only. The software sends all results electronically and produces paper reports upon request only, minimizing the need to track and shred papers containing confidential information.

When drug screening is necessary, there is inevitably much at stake and decisions can profoundly affect lives. In making it easier for multiple decision-makers to share notes, comments, and other information, from different locations at different times, decisions can be made quickly and with confidence.

While addiction professionals can benefit from both new analyzer technology and new case management software, the real advancements in care come when these technologies are used together. On-site testing combined with a comprehensive software system offers treatment centers and medical clinics the ability to screen samples, review test results, and make decisions in the patient's best interest—all on site in a single visit. This combination of technologies reduces overhead costs and improves efficiency, benefiting the addiction professional, the clinic, and most of all the patient.

Stephen Leonard, PhD, is Manager of Strategy and Business Development at NOVX Systems, a provider of drug screening technologies. His role includes working closely with senior management to develop and execute the company's strategic business plan and exploring new opportunities for growth within the broader diagnostics market. His e-mail address is