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Enhancing patient care with point-of-care testing

August 1, 2019
ACP’s standards of practice for point-of-care and laboratory testing establish clear expectations for pharmacy professionals.

Point-of-care devices (POCT) are changing the way health care is delivered. Thanks to technology, POCT devices have made significant advances since the first blood glucose meters were introduced in the 1960s.  The early strips were intended for use in physician’s offices not in the home. By the 1980s the strips had evolved to a device and were revolutionizing patients’ ability to monitor their own blood glucose levels. These devices were the beginning of point-of-care testing in the pharmacy and enabled access to data outside of the normal laboratory environment. Advancements in POCT technology produced fast, cost-effective, and reliable results and made POCT a valuable tool in pharmacy practice.

“We recognized that there were a lot of new technologies emerging that were giving pharmacists information that they could use at the point-of-care to make decisions,” said Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP) Deputy Registrar Jeff Whissell. “Pharmacy teams needed to be set up for success if they were going to use these tools.”

Traditional laboratory testing is still considered the gold standard for most tests and a patient’s results are usually available on Netcare so a pharmacist should always check Netcare prior to considering a POCT test. If the relevant test result exists already, it saves further testing and helps to conserve health resources. If more test results are required, then lab testing, or POCT, may be appropriate.

“POCT and available lab test results can be a huge benefit when used appropriately, because it can allow a pharmacist to immediately make a more informed decision about care, and act upon the patient’s needs,” said Jeff.

In conjunction with the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association (RxA), ACP pulled together a group of subject matter experts who were informed about the complexities of point-of-care testing and tasked them with writing a white paper. The group conducted an environmental scan, discussing current technologies, how and where they were being used and what were important considerations for practitioners who might use them. They also considered federal and provincial legislation that would govern the subject and consulted with stakeholders. In mid-2016, the group released their findings, The Point-of-Care Testing (POCT) Environment: Considerations in Developing a Framework for POCT in Pharmacy Practice.

The white paper supported discussions at ACP Council, the development of guidance, and finally the new standards, which are designed to ensure that pharmacy professionals use laboratory and POCT tests and their results appropriately. Technology is developing at a rapid pace, and pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are constantly incorporating advancements into their practices. The new standards equip pharmacy professionals to adapt to the changing environment, and to decide when to use traditional lab testing, when to use POCT, and when both, or either, may be appropriate to help assess a patient.

“Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are accessible to patients at many different points in the healthcare system,” said Jeff. “And to ensure safe and effective drug therapy, they need to assess a patient, recognize missing information, and take steps to acquire it.”