MOH conducting pilot for virtually supervised Covid-19 antigen rapid tests

About 1,000 people have used Doctor Anywhere's tele-ART service since its launch on Jan 11, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Those who need to take a supervised Covid-19 antigen rapid test (ART) can now do so over video consultation with a private healthcare provider. The results will be sent to users of the service via SMS and e-mail in about four hours.

A pilot programme to assess the feasibility of real-time virtually supervised self-swab ARTs is being conducted, the Ministry of Health (MOH) told The Straits Times on Sunday (Jan 16).

MOH said it is looking into expanding the options to facilitate regular self-testing and to complement its existing network of physical test centres as Singapore transitions towards living with Covid-19.

The pilot programme involves healthcare start-up Doctor Anywhere, which launched its tele-ART service last Tuesday.

The service makes it more convenient for people returning on vaccinated travel lane flights to take their day three and day seven tests.

Supervised tests are also needed pre-departure to some countries and for attendees of some events.  

The results for virtually supervised pre-event and pre-departure tests are also valid, depending on the requirements of the destination countries.

To book a tele-ART appointment, members of the public must download the Doctor Anywhere app.

Doctor Anywhere charges $12.84 for the service, which does not include ART kits.

During the 30-minute consultation, the person taking the test will have to keep his video camera on and ensure that the ART kit is visible so that results can be verified by the swab supervisor.

Ms Ivin Yew, director of projects and strategy at Doctor Anywhere, told ST that precautionary measures are taken to ensure that Covid-19 test results are accurate.

For instance, before the test begins, users will be asked to check that all parts of the ART kit, such as the swab stick and testing reagent, are unopened.

The swab stick will also have to be inserted to a depth of about 2.5cm in the nostril.

Dr Raymond Ong, a senior doctor at Doctor Anywhere, told ST that about 1,000 people have used the tele-consultation service in the first week of its launch. He hopes the service will be able to meet approximately 30 per cent of the demand for supervised self-swab ARTs.

Dr Ong said: "We see an acute need to make Covid-19 testing more widely available and accessible. For us to get back some sense of normalcy, it is important that we ensure testing is blended into our normal lives."

MOH said that the outcomes of this pilot will inform the licensing requirements and safeguards needed to ensure the veracity of test results from virtually supervised testing.

Infectious disease experts said that this pilot will make it more convenient and safer for people to take a Covid-19 test.

Checks by ST on Monday found that there were no queues at various quick test centres.

Associate Professor Jeremy Lim from the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said: "Remote supervision is much cheaper and more convenient compared with the hassle of (doing so) in person.

"There is also the additional benefit of safety as we avoid persons congregating in confined spaces and increasing the risk of Covid-19 infection, particularly with Omicron which is more infectious."

Associate Professor Sophia Archuleta, head and senior consultant at National University Hospital's division of infectious diseases, said: "The last two years of the pandemic have accelerated the adoption of telemedicine and the model can be expanded should the need arise with the healthcare system under stress with Omicron."

Prof Archuleta said: "This shift is another step towards living with Covid-19 and avoiding the unnecessary medicalisation of a simple test that can be performed at home."

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