Dignity Health officials hope new rapid COVID-19 test reduces patient concerns

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The current fear of seeking treatment at hospitals because of COVID-19 is a potentially dangerous trend, especially for cancer patients.

“They don’t want to come in even if they have acute emergencies,” said Dr. Costanzo Di Perna, the medical director of the Oncology Service Line at Dignity Health.

Dr. Di Perna is a surgeon who primarily treats cancer patients at Dignity Health.

He recently had to convince his own father to get to a hospital after he suffered stomach pain for several days.

“He actually has cancer, which is curable after surgery,” Dr. Di Perna explained. “If he had appendicitis, he could have died at home.”

DiPerna said some of his cancer patients are putting off visits for weeks or months for fear of the virus.

“This could cause delayed care for cancer, so a cancer could become a more aggressive stage just by sitting on it,” he told FOX40.

Dignity Health officials hope to turn around the trend by using a toaster-sized device called the Abbott ID NOW.

It analyses nasal and oral swabs to detect the genetic marker of the novel coronavirus and gives results in five to 15 minutes, meaning patients can be tested just before they go into surgery.

A host of much larger testing devices is being used at medical facilities to test hundreds of samples at once and may take a day or more for results.

Cancer treatment is oftentimes sensitive.

“They have the symptoms, we want to rule them out,” Dr. Di Perna said. “They can’t wait six hours or two or three days or five days to be ruled out. Then you lose the resources, right?’’

It allows operating room staff to go to work without having to don scarce personal protective equipment and hospital staff to get tested the same day they get symptoms.

“You can go to work knowing you are not going to expose your colleagues, your patients,” Di Perna said.

In fact, the testing system was developed to ensure the safety of front-line COVID-19 workers, which translates to the safety of patients as well.

The ID NOW machine was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration as an emergency measure prior to being certified.

Some believe that it may eventually be used in workplaces as lockdown orders are lifted.

While Dignity Health and Abbott feel they have the technology to keep hospital patients safe during treatment, the next step is to convince them that that’s true. And just like everything else during this pandemic, that may take some time.

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