Ensuring access to vital blood tests in remote health care

A newly funded Flinders University project is looking to improve access to full blood examination tests for rural and remote healthcare patients, improving patient outcomes and reducing health costs, while ensuring equitable health access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Despite being the most requested lab pathology test in Australia, full blood examination tests are not reliably accessible in rural and remote communities, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.

The study will trial a newly available point-of-care testing device which provides full blood examination results in less than 10 minutes, a significant improvement from the current laboratory test turn-around times of around 3 to 7 days in remote communities.

Project Chief Investigator Dr Brooke Spaeth, Research Fellow and Coordinator of Flinders University’s Northern Territory (NT) Point-of-Care Testing Program, says the availability of the test is especially important for time-critical clinical conditions, such as sepsis, where early and accurate diagnosis can significantly improve patient outcomes and has the potential to save lives.

“The rapid results of the point-of-care full blood examination test is likely to improve the diagnosis detection of sepsis, which disproportionately effects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly in remote communities of the Northern Territory, therefore reducing sepsis related morbidity and mortality,” says Dr Spaeth.

Dr Brooke Spaeth

Using sepsis as a case study, the project will investigate the clinical and economic impact of rolling out point-of-care full blood examination testing. The study will utilise the existing NT Point-of-Care Testing Program network, established by Flinders University’s International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing in 2008, which predominantly serves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“This project, recently awarded almost $3 million by the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund, will look to determine if we can add full blood examination tests into the suite of other point-of-care tests and networks that our International Centre already manages in rural and remote communities throughout Australia,” says Dr Spaeth.

“Our main aim will be to understand if using the test reduces the time to treatment for patients who are diagnosed with sepsis, while also looking to see if access to the test reduces the incidence of septic shock, reduces the need for medical evacuations for suspected sepsis and generates economic benefits that justify the costs of establishing the program.”

In addition, the evaluation will also explore barriers and facilitators to the use of full blood examination point-of-care testing in remote health clinics and investigate the potential to scale up the program to assist in a broader range of conditions, such as anaemia, chronic kidney disease and respiratory infections, all of which disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders populations.

“We urgently need access to timely and reliable full blood examination tests in rural and remote communities to help with the detection of sepsis, a time-critical clinical condition, as well as the diagnosis and management of many other chronic conditions,” says Dr Spaeth.

“Building on our Centre’s more than 20 years of experience with point-of-care testing, our proposed model is expected to improve the service and capabilities of the hundreds of point-of-care testing sites across Australia.

“Scalability is key and so we will ensure any improvements we are able to uncover are translatable to other rural and remote communities, whilst ensuring cultural safety and delivering improved health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

The project ‘Equitable access to full blood evaluation testing at the point-of-care in remote primary health’ has been awarded $2,996,294.25 by the Medical Research Future Fund Primary Health Care Research initiative.

Project partners are Sepsis Australia (George Institute for Global Health), Northern Territory Health, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) and the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.

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College of Medicine and Public Health Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute Flinders NT International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing Research