Despite COVID-19, Regular Lab Testing Expands

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TIMES ARE GOOD FOR THE REGULAR RANGE of clinical laboratory and anatomic pathology testing services. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the daily number of routine test specimens is near pre-pandemic levels and certain sectors of lab testing—particularly genetic tests and some high-cost assays—are showing substantial growth this year, compared to 2019. 

It may surprise many clinical laboratory administrators and pathologists to learn these facts, in part, because they continue to be fully occupied with the demands of providing adequate numbers of molecular SARS-CoV-2 tests even as their laboratories must also deliver the regular range of diagnostic tests used daily in patient care. 

The volume of routine testing had returned to pre-pandemic levels during the summer of 2020. As you will read here, the two billion-dollar public lab companies—LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics—both told investors on their recent fourth quarter 2020 conference calls that the daily number of routine test specimens had declined by high-single digit percents in the early fall. That drop off has continued into the first months of 2021. 

At the same time, both lab companies report that they see robust demand for specialty tests and for genetic tests. Also, LabCorp executives mentioned during their earnings call that they had seen an increase in the average number of tests per requisition in recent months. That partially offsets the decline in the daily number of requisitions from regular testing activities. They attribute the increase in average number of tests per requisition to physicians needing to order more tests during a patient’s office visit, because so many patients stopped coming in for regular office visits after the onset of the pandemic. 

It’s not just regular clinical laboratory testing that shows signs of returning to a pre-pandemic level. In the in vitro diagnostics (IVD) industry, companies continue to bring new products to market and to acquire up-and-coming diagnostic companies. Here you will read about Truvian Sciences and its technology designed to enable more near-patient testing for 40 of the most common clinical laboratory tests. Similarly, here, you can read about Roche Diagnostics spending $1.8 billion to acquire GenMark Diagnostics. These are examples that demonstrate how the diagnostic and lab testing marketplaces are steadily moving back to a more normal state. 

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