There remains a growing need for COVID-19 tests as the virus continues to keep communities across the U.S. at home and hospitals are overwhelmed with patients. The current state of testing for COVID-19 means that an end to physical distancing is a long way off. But one health system headquartered in New Orleans is offering same-day testing for COVID-19.   

As known COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Louisiana, Ochsner Health, an AMA Health System Program Partner, has been working to reduce long turnaround times for tests. And now with the availability of a rapid COVID-19 test, Ochsner can offer results in as little as five minutes.  

In total, at this article’s deadline, Ochsner has tested more than 23,000 patients for COVID-19. Of those patients, around 7,000 tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 13,000 tested negative. As testing increases, the physicians and health professionals across the health system have seen a lower percentage being admitted to the hospital with only 9%, down from 15%. The health system has also successfully treated and discharged more than 1,400 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Louisiana has the highest per capita testing rate in the country, and I think we have helped play a part in that with the aggressive work we’ve done to do testing,” said President and CEO of Ochsner Health Warner Thomas. “We are going to continue to push on that to stay ahead of it going forward.” 

To continue to provide proper patient care, Ochsner now offers three types of testing with a fourth on the way. Here the different types of COVID-19 testing offered by Ochsner and how they continue to help fight the pandemic.  

Rapid testing 

Available from Abbott Labs in Chicago, the rapid tests can be completed within about 15 minutes. This allows for quicker turnarounds for COVID-19 testing.  

“We’re testing any emergency department admissions that we see because when a patient comes into our hospital, we want to know immediately whether they are positive or negative,” said Robert Hart, MD, chief medical director at Ochsner. “That helps us in several ways. It helps with the safety of our staff. It also helps with the utilization of the PPE that is at such a premium.” 

With the availability of rapid testing for COVID-19, Ochsner hopes to complete about 4,000 tests a week. This will include all patients who get admitted to the hospital. Another area that will receive the rapid testing is labor and delivery.  

“We want to know when a mother comes into our labor and delivery suites, whether they’re positive or not,” said Dr. Hart. “We know for all those around the staff whether there are precautions we need to take.” 

Rapid testing is also used for immunocompromised patients. Before the patient comes in for treatment with chemotherapy or radiation oncology, they will be tested for COVID-19. “We want to make sure that if someone’s coming in for chemotherapy… they are not an asymptomatic carrier for COVID-19,” said Dr. Hart.  

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24-hour testing 

Last month, Ochsner brought COVID-19 testing in-house to better meet the growing demands of the state. This has allowed the health system to avoid relying on a third-party or the state to confirm results. As a result, twice the number of patients can be tested in-house.  

Ochsner’s in-house testing yields results within 24-36 hours compared to commercial testing, which takes five to eight days. “We are still doing the majority of testing on the 24-hour turnaround because the platform is larger,” said Dr. Hart, adding that they are “able to do upwards of a thousand to 1,100 a day.” 

Drive-thru testing 

Most of the 24-hour testing occurs at drive thru testing facilities. Ochsner continues to open drive-thru testing facilities as the need arises.   

“We’re really trying to target areas that we think would benefit from more testing and certainly keep putting more testing in those areas,” said Thomas, adding that “we’re doing those 24-hour turnaround tests sheerly because of the volume that we are doing.” 

Patients are encouraged to call first before coming for drive-thru testing so physicians and other health professionals can take proper precautions. “We can have the physicians set up an appointment where the patient just comes through, the swab is done and they’re on their way,” said Dr. Hart. “It minimizes the contact with the health care worker so that they’re not exposed.”  

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Antibody testing 

Expanding on the testing capabilities, Ochsner expects to be providing the lab-based COVID-19 antibody test developed by Abbott Labs in the next couple weeks.  

“We look forward to being one of the first centers in the country that will be doing antibody testing, which will allow us to test without someone necessarily having symptoms,” said Thomas. “We’ll be able to tell whether they haven’t or have had COVID-19.” 

“You have to remember, and we sometimes forget this in the hospital, 80% of people that get COVID-19 may not ever need care or seek care,” said Dr. Hart. “Those people are running around out there and we don’t know them, so we’re having everyone take precautions right now. There is a subset of people out there who have already had the disease that we do not have to be worried about contracting the disease again.” 

“When we look at some of the modeling that we’ve done, there is no doubt the social distancing has made a huge impact on the numbers of patients that we were seeing,” he said. “But having that antibody testing to know who out there has already had the disease” will help provide patients and health professionals with “peace of mind.”  

Stay up to speed on the fast-moving pandemic with the AMA’s COVID-19 resource center, which offers a library of the most up-to-date resources from JAMA Network™, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. Also check out the JAMA Network COVID-19 resource center

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