by Ryan Ozawa
Article filed in
What is Asymptomatic Surveillance Testing?
by Ryan Ozawa
In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials focused their attention on specific outbreaks and people who were exposed, or were most likely to be exposed, to the virus. This made sense, as COVID-19 tests were in limited supply, and the early response to any outbreak attempts to contain known cases and limit their spread.
But as COVID-19 became an everyday reality, it became increasingly important to understand how widespread infections were in the overall community. That’s where asymptomatic surveillance testing comes in.
What types of COVID-19 testing are being conducted?
At the highest level, COVID-19 testing can be put into three basic categories: diagnostic, screening, and surveillance.
Diagnostic testing is part of health care protocol and is focused on individuals. Diagnostic testing made up the vast majority of tests administered in the spring and summer of 2020 and usually meant a healthcare provider identified a specific patient who exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 who was recently exposed to the virus through a close contact, or who was in a high-risk group believed to be especially susceptible to COVID-19 exposure (including healthcare workers).
COVID-19 screening also takes place at the individual level, but it does not require a justification like a known exposure to the virus. But like diagnostic testing, COVID-19 screening is focused on identifying infected or likely infected patients who do not know they are infected in order to prevent them from spreading the virus.
Common examples of COVID-19 screening include a business testing all of its employees, regardless of symptoms or exposure, before allowing people to return to the office, or testing all students and faculty at a school to determine who can return to the classroom and when.
Finally, there’s surveillance testing, which takes place across a community or patient population instead of at the individual level.
What is asymptomatic surveillance testing?
Asymptomatic surveillance testing is conducted regardless of whether members of a community or region are exhibiting symptoms.
Because diagnostic testing prioritizes people who are likely to be infected, a much higher percentage of diagnostic tests will come back positive than from asymptomatic surveillance tests.
Instead of focusing on people at high risk of being exposed, surveillance testing often involves a random sampling of a certain percentage of the overall group.
An example of surveillance testing, the FDA explains, is a testing plan developed by a state public health department to randomly select and sample 1% of all individuals in a city on a rolling basis to determine local infection rates and trends.
Surveillance testing is needed to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in a given community. And regular surveillance testing can help public health officials track trends over time. Are infections rising or falling? Are preventative measures like social distancing or limiting the size of social gatherings working?
Surveillance testing does not always involve sending individualized test results for participants. While a HIPAA compliant email API such as the Paubox Email API would support the sending of large amounts of health information, in many cases participants are simply instructed to seek out a diagnostic test to be sure of their COVID-19 status.
How Paubox can help
The Paubox Email API can be leveraged by healthcare organizations to send test results and other PHI at scale, while protecting privacy.
With our HITRUST CSF certified product, patients receive encrypted emails directly to their inboxes—no passwords or portals required. Easy to implement with clear documentation, a developer’s experience is as seamless as the email recipient’s.