Silicon Slopes collaboration could be the future of Utah medical care

Written by Derek Monson

April 10, 2020

Silicon Slopes, in collaboration with medical care providers, the state Department of Health and the state COVID-19 Task Force, recently launched TestUtah.com to assess Utahns online to determine if they need to be tested for COVID-19. The initial days of this new collaboration have been so successful, that the Deseret News reports that governors across the country have taken notice:

The TestUtah.com program has, since debuting last Thursday afternoon, performed over 50,000 individual online assessments of Utah residents for potential COVID-19, referred over 2,600 respondents for testing, helped coordinate testing of over 1,500 of those people, and returned nearly 800 completed tests.

This point includes two drive-thru testing centers in Utah County with two or three more likely to come online in the coming week, and a goal to have 10-15 testing centers functioning throughout the state in the next several weeks. Each site, [Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint] Betts said, will have the capacity to collect 300-500 tests per day. And, thanks to a partnership with Salt Lake-based medical diagnostics company Co-Diagnostics, an ability to process all of those tests and return results within a 24 to 48-hour window.

Of course, the most urgent question about TestUtah.com is how much will it help slow the spread of coronavirus in Utah? The initial results are encouraging, and ultimately time will tell.

An equally important, albeit longer-term, question is will this Silicon Slopes project produce a lasting innovation in basic medical care for Utahns – to the benefit of patients, public health and medical providers?

A few days before the launch of TestUtah.com, the Deseret News published a Sutherland Institute analysis of the potential for the pandemic to motivate innovation in medical care. It read:

While the future is impossible to predict, you can envision a future in which the medical treatment norm is not to require sick people to congregate in a doctor’s office waiting area, but to diagnose and treat a sick person with as little exposure to healthy people as possible. A typical experience of medical care for basic illnesses could involve a video chat with your doctor (i.e. telemedicine), a trip to the drive-up testing center, if needed, and a delivery of a prescription a few hours later to your home. Innovation in medical care can have the dual impacts of protecting public health while maximizing the convenience and positive experience of the patient — a classic example of what a free market can deliver.

TestUtah.com’s success is proof of concept for this vision of medical care for highly communicable disease, such as strep throat, influenza or COVID-19. Just as telemedicine has the potential to do, the TestUtah.com online assessment is directing individuals with COVID-19 away from emergency rooms and doctors’ offices – where they can potentially spread disease to doctors and nurses or to healthy individuals sitting nearby – toward alternatives like drive-up testing facilities. This method of diagnosis and treatment (if prescriptions are needed) is both more convenient for patients and better for public health.

Why couldn’t TestUtah.com – or a similar online diagnostic tool – be used post-pandemic to assess symptomatic patients for illnesses like strep throat or the flu? Using such a system for the flu holds potential for significant benefit, since that disease typically kills 30,000-60,000 Americans per year based on estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Turning TestUtah.com into a lasting medical care innovation will require vision among medical providers, healthcare policymakers and the private sector, as well as a determination to continue the collaboration Silicon Slopes has begun. But TestUtah.com – along with things like telemedicine and home delivery of prescriptions – is proving that we have the tools to improve our process for diagnosing, testing and prescribing for highly communicable diseases in ways that will reduce the risk of spreading such diseases to other patients or medical professionals.

The doctor’s office may even someday become a place that we associate with healthy people (physicals, well-child visits) and non-communicable disease treatment (e.g. diabetes) rather than where the sick and the healthy go together. That kind of system would truly prioritize good health.

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