In the U.S., more than 7 billion clinical lab tests occur annually.
Blood tests, specifically, monitor health, provide diagnoses, and assess the success of treatment.
But have you ever wondered, “how accurate are blood tests?” Most people know of the term “false positive”. If you get your blood taken, especially due to suspected illness, you want to know if your results are accurate or not.
Here’s a breakdown of test accuracy and 6 innovative trends to increase those numbers.
How Accurate Are Blood Tests?
First, you should know that there are standards and regulations in place to protect patients. If lab tests weren’t held to a standard, people can get a misdiagnosis, resulting in harm or death.
Legislation, such as the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988, set standards of practice. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are a part of these processes.
While each lab has its own measurement of “normal” health, there are certain marks they must hit in order to continue operating.
Accuracy refers to the trueness of a test compared to a control specimen. It’s different than precision, which is the ability to repeat the test and get similar results.
Sensitivity is also a part of a test’s capabilities, which looks at identifying people who have a disease. Specificity is the other side of the matter, referring to the ability of a test to exclude “healthy” people.
To ensure proper test conduction, labs are subject to proficiency testing. This is when companies outside of the lab send in “challenge” samples for testing. They already know the results, so if the lab reports outside of an acceptable range, they must stop business until they can meet the standards.
All labs must have standards of quality control. This measures the efficiency of each part of the blood taking process, from getting the patient’s name and sample all the way to delivery of results.
A blood test can report incorrect results due to the method of specimen collection, transportation to the lab, and the time it all takes. Quality control ensures these steps follow standards and reduces the risk of false results.
No Test Is 100%
Not one in the world. There’s new technology developed every year to close the gap towards perfection.
If you’re concerned about the accuracy or precision of your test, have another test performed (or a few).
In the meantime, you can look forward to these innovations to improve accuracy.
1. Genetic Testing
Invented in the last 50 years, genetic testing continues to offer hope for a variety of illnesses and diseases.
Genome sequencing shows an individual’s risk of disease. Genetic testing also can show the development of abnormalities throughout an individual’s life by looking at mutated genes.
Through looking at an unborn child’s genes (known as non-invasive prenatal tests), doctors can see gene mutations before birth. This can help the healthcare provider and parents plan for future medical needs.
2. High-Sensitivity Cardiac Troponins
Troponins are proteins released in the blood when the heart muscle becomes damaged.
By looking at tiny amounts of troponins in blood samples, doctors can detect whether a patient has had a heart attack or not.
These new tests have less than 10% imprecision. The applications of this innovation are huge. In the future, a simple blood test can provide information on whether or not a person needs cardiac treatment.
3. LRC Kits
Lipid Reference Control (LRC) kits are accuracy-based tests for cholesterol. They have unprecedented accuracy—99.5% reference value.
These LRC kits are a part of the CDC’s lipid standardization program and have CAP accreditation.
In addition to meeting national standards and exceeding expected accuracy, these kits get fulfilled within 2-3 days, kept safe with dry ice. This means the possibility of error due to quality control becomes limited.
4. Blood Tests for Alzheimer’s Disease
Although it’s considered advanced technology as of right now, this could be the future for Alzheimer’s testing.
Traditionally, diagnosing the disease relies on PET scans and cerebral fluid analysis. These tests are expensive and incredibly invasive.
New research shows that looking for an abnormal accumulation of beta-amyloid in the blood may diagnose Alzheimer’s, even before symptoms show. Beta-amyloid is a protein in the brain. When there’s too much of it, it eventually leads to the death of brain cells.
In addition to urine samples, blood samples may offer a diagnosis for cancer.
In the past, diagnosed comes from specific exams such as a mammogram or colonoscopy.
Now, instead of these expensive tests, doctors are beginning to use “liquid biopsies” (i.e., blood tests and urine samples). They’re looking at several hundred genes and 40 protein markets that indicate cancer.
With greater than 99% specificity for cancer, these tests could catch cancer before symptoms appear.
Johns Hopkins University created this test, called CancerSeek, and hope it can hit mass public health with a price lower than $500.
This one blood panel tests for breast, colorectal, esophagus, liver, lung, ovary, pancreas, and stomach cancers.
Have you ever wondered about health procedures, such as blood tests, in third world countries?
Much of what we consider “standard” in healthcare is unavailable to people in other countries. With this in mind, Harvard University developed mChip.
mChip provides accurate results from a single drop of blood in less than 20 minutes. The device is all-in-one, meaning the technology analyzes the sample and provides results on the screen.
They’re the size of a credit card and run on 9-volt batteries, making them practical in places without power. The primary use for them, as of now, is for testing HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis C.
The future of healthcare technology is always advancing. The state of the industry is beyond what it was even 10 years ago.
If you’re ever faced with results and wonder, “how accurate are blood tests?”, rest assured that they’re always becoming more accurate.
To keep up with new trends and information, keep up with our frequent blog posts.