UnitedHealth Group Study Clears Path for Self-Administered COVID-19 Test, Improving Testing Efficiency and Protecting Health Care Workers

  • Simple, scalable patient-collected COVID-19 testing process is as effective as clinician-administered test, according to study of 500 OptumCare patients

  • Self-swab tests are being made available to patients with a doctor’s order at hospitals, clinics and testing facilities 

  • Less-invasive testing is better tolerated by patients, reduces exposure for health care workers, and preserves personal protective equipment

  • FDA has updated its guidance based on UnitedHealth Group data to allow patients to self-administer swab tests for COVID-19

MINNETONKA, Minn. — 

A study led by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) Research & Development and OptumCare clinicians has demonstrated that a simple, self- collected test is as effective in identifying COVID-19 infections as the current clinician-collected test. Widespread adoption of this less invasive test will reduce exposure for health care workers and improve overall testing efficiency across the country.

The study found tests using self-administered swab tests accurately detected COVID-19 in more than 90% of positive patients, which is consistent with the clinician-administered test. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its guidance based on the UnitedHealth Group research, allowing patients nationwide to self-administer swab tests for COVID-19. The study, which was prepared for a major peer-reviewed medical journal, included nearly 500 patients at OptumCare facilities in Washington state.

“We know that broad, rapid and accurate testing is essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, yet the current clinician-administered process significantly limits testing capacity, puts frontline health care workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure, and is unpleasant for patients,” said study-lead Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, an infectious disease expert at The Everett Clinic, part of OptumCare. “Making simple, patient-administered testing widely available will substantially improve testing efficiency, while protecting health care workers and preserving urgently needed personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gowns and gloves.”

The current COVID-19 test regimen requires a trained health care worker to collect samples from deep inside the patient’s nasal cavity. The process requires the use of personal protective equipment, is uncomfortable for the patient, and puts unnecessary strain on the health care system. The patient-administered testing method is significantly less invasive, allowing patients to swab the front part of the nostril and mid-nose.

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents the health care system with extraordinary challenges that need to be addressed quickly. While working on the front lines of our clinical care facilities in Washington state, Dr. Tu saw an opportunity to improve COVID-19 testing and rallied the expertise and resources of UnitedHealth Group to complete the study in less than one week,” said Ken Ehlert, chief scientific officer of UnitedHealth Group. “This is one of many ways we’re working across UnitedHealth Group, Optum and UnitedHealthcare to combat COVID-19 by providing the best care for patients, supporting the health care workforce, and enabling the health care system with new insights and solutions.”

UnitedHealth Group Research & Development partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Washington and Quest Diagnostics to conduct the study.

“Nasal swabs are extremely easy for anyone to self-collect, in any setting, so it's an excellent way to expand screening while reducing worker exposure,” said Gerard Cangelosi, professor, University of Washington Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.

About UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health care company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and helping to make the health system work better for everyone. UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. For more information, visit UnitedHealth Group at www.unitedhealthgroup.com or follow @UnitedHealthGrp on Twitter.

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UnitedHealth Group Study Clears Path for Self-Administered COVID-19 Test, Improving Testing Efficiency and Protecting Health Care Workers