Thought Leaders

COVID Testing Creates A New, Educated Consumer

Manufacturers and distributors are seeking ways to address a lab market that has fundamentally shifted.

Healthcare distribution thought leaders
Left to right: Saundra Savage, Quidel; Luke Christensen, McKesson; Emily Berlin, Cardinal Health; Jonathan Overbey, Sekisui Diagnostics

July 2022 | From HIDA's Healthcare Distribution & Supply Chain™ magazine

At-home lab testing became commonplace during the pandemic. As different do-it-yourself tests became available online, at pharmacies and supermarkets, consumers became self-declared experts in COVID diagnostic testing. It has opened the way to a new, untapped market for a variety of at-home wellness tests.

“Diagnostics have been at the forefront of the pandemic,” said McKesson VP of Laboratory Sales Luke Christensen, speaking at a HIDA Thought Leaders panel discussion on lab and diagnostics distribution. “When your 91-year-old mother-in-law tells you the difference between an antigen test and a PCR, you realize what we do has gone to a totally new level.”

Industry experts agree that this new, educated consumer is causing a seismic shift reverberating throughout the lab and diagnostics industry. “The pandemic raised consumer awareness of the role that testing plays within the healthcare system,” said panelist Emily Berlin, VP Marketing & Product Management with Cardinal Health. “The consumer now accepts doing a test within the home. It all translates to wellness.”

Omicron Increases At-Home Test Usage
Chart showing increase of at-home COVID-19 test usage starting in January 2022 Source: CDC, April 2022

The direct-to-consumer testing market is expected to grow 33% by 2025, according to Quest Diagnostics. “The move to retail is going to continue,” Quidel VP of U.S. Channel Sales Saundra Savage said. “This type of testing — you pick it up when you’re picking up milk. That’s the modernization of diagnostics.”

Jim Poggi

Veteran lab expert Jim Poggi with AvMedical agrees: “Home testing is here to stay. You can’t unring that bell.”

However, he recommends that the supply chain clean up its electronic infrastructure as more testing migrates to the home. Better consumer reporting of at-home results is necessary for patient care. “The caregiver needs to know the at-home test results and to follow up.”

What Lab Customers Want From Distributors

Distributor Tips & Takeaways
  1. Visit a lab during slow testing times, which is usually afternoons, to take actions such as validating substitute products.
  2. Recommend technologies to labs that increase efficiency.
  3. Supply chain transparency is the top priority for most provider customers.
  4. Distributors should distill and operationalize their data to help inform customers and manufacturing partners.
  5. Today’s distributor-provider dialogue is all about available product, a shift from pre-pandemic days of focusing on price and then solutions.
  6. Strategic market sales teams are moving into blossoming areas like retail.
  7. Over-the-counter testing will shift from a focus on COVID testing to wellness testing.
Lab Tips & Takeaways
  1. Continue to leverage trusted partnerships. There were many new, unknown entrants to the medical products distribution market during the pandemic’s first six months. But ultimately, success was achieved by leveraging pre-established relationships.
  2. Collaborate with distributors on future product planning to help identify items a lab might need seasonally or during a crisis event such as a natural disaster.
  3. Long-COVID will require a new suite of testing for this subset of patients.
  4. Ask distributors to share feedback from front-line providers about specific products.
  5. Educate distributors that product substitutions can be challenging for labs utilizing custom machines operating with specific parts, such as a unique pipette tip.
  6. Take advantage of distributors’ logistics management and product inventory services.

CVS Earnings Reflect Changing Consumer Behavior

  • In Q1 2022, CVS saw a drop in pandemic-related services. It administered more than 6 million COVID tests and more than 8 million COVID vaccines during those three months. That compares to more than 8 million COVID tests and more than 20 million COVID vaccines in Q4 2021 at the retailer’s stores.

  • More consumers are buying OTC at-home test kits instead of getting tested for COVID onsite, CVS executives said during its Q1 2022 earnings call.

  • Testing, excluding at-home kits, is expected to drop by about 50% year-over-year, said CFO Shawn Guertin. Executives forecast OTC test sales to be about the same or higher for 2022.

  • The pandemic has inspired more customers to seek healthcare via CVS’s brick-and-mortar stores and its website, CVS CEO Karen Lynch said. The company supported 10,000 virtual mental health visits in 2019 and a whopping 10 million virtual visits for mental health in 2021.

Adults Expecting to Visit Retail Clinic Post-Pandemic


9% Never Expect To Go
45% Expect To Go Sometimes
46% Expect To Go Often

The FDA has authorized 433 COVID-19 tests and sample collection devices under emergency use authorizations. This includes:

  • 298 molecular tests and sample collection devices
  • 84 antibody and other immune response tests
  • 50 antigen tests
  • 1 diagnostic breath test
  • At-Home COVID Tests (of the 433 EUA COVID tests)
  • 78 molecular authorizations
  • 1 antibody authorization that can be used with home-collected samples
  • 1 molecular prescription at-home test
  • 2 antigen prescription at-home tests
  • 17 antigen OTC at-home tests
  • 3 molecular OTC at-home tests
Source: FDA, May 3, 2022
Fraud Alert
The FDA launched a website in May listing counterfeit OTC COVID diagnostic tests. It updates the page as needed to alert healthcare providers, distributors, and the public to fake tests. It also provides information on how to identify counterfeit tests. Visit to learn more.

Pandemic Environment Cultivates New Lab Strategies

COVID upended the notion for consumers that healthcare is only available at a healthcare facility, experts agreed during a HIDA Customer Insights event on the lab and physician markets.

“Once you give everyone the opportunity to do their own testing, they are all scientists,” said Jane Hermansen of the Mayo Clinic. “There is tremendous opportunity for the healthcare field now that patients are being empowered to collect their own specimens.”

Panelists shared insights on serving growth sectors.

Fill In The Care Gaps

Patients are returning to healthcare settings for elective surgeries and preventive medicine such as colonoscopies and mammograms. When patients visit, providers have the opportunity to fill in care gaps like checking for lipid or Hepatitis C status. “COVID has opened up another world of testing,” Hermansen said.

Understand The Need For Speed

COVID taught us about convenience and bringing care to the patient but also about speed, said Brian Jackson, who works for reference lab ARUP Laboratories. When it comes to infectious diseases, getting a fast result is beneficial. Consumers and providers now expect results today. There’s a huge efficiency if you can get lab results while a patient is still at the clinic, Hermansen noted.

Acknowledge Telemedicine’s Expansion

Telemedicine visits should become permanent, Verlin Janzen, Hutchinson Clinic, said. Patients from teens to the elderly are asking for it. COVID accelerated it, and now patients expect it.

Embrace Virtual Meetings

While the value of networking can never be replaced with the virtual option, sometimes virtual is good enough, panelists agreed. Virtual can enable more key people to attend.

Build The Workforce Of Tomorrow

Distributors have been tremendously helpful in engaging with communities by engaging with students and offering education about the profession itself, Hermansen said. There’s a huge need for training in how to manage and run a lab, particularly the small to medium size physician office lab, Janzen added.

Emphasize Product Training

Janzen also serves as a medical director at a skilled nursing facility. The staff received COVID-19 test kits for residents, but struggled because they did not have a lab background to do the testing and understand the results, he said.

Be A Good Steward Of Staff Time And Resources

There’s a responsibility of leadership to conserve products, but also staff time. The largest expense in a clinic is personnel, Janzen commented.

Jane Hermansen

Jane Hermansen
Mayo Clinic

Verlin Janzen

Verlin Janzen
Hutchinson Clinic

Brian Jackson

Brian Jackson
ARUP Laboratories

HIDA Board Chair Mike Dubose, who also serves as president of Fisher Healthcare, shared his insights on industry market trends as the nation begins to emerge from the pandemic.

  1. Lab testing is migrating to other settings
  2. High-value diagnostics are accelerating
  3. Health economics are changing
  4. Value-based reimbursement challenges are increasing
  5. Labor shortages of skilled workers are affecting the healthcare sector
  6. Payer networks are narrowing
  7. Innovation and automation will be necessary in our space going forward
  8. Distributors are increasingly valued for offering operational efficiencies
2022 Key Priorities
  • Adapting To Changing Markets: There is a backlog of testing in other areas besides COVID
  • Supplier Partnerships: Jointly taking opportunities to customers
  • Innovation: It became front and center during the pandemic, such as the creation of a COVID vaccine in less than a year
  • Branding: New solutions are needed, whether it’s private label or nationally branded
  • Supply Assurance: The industry must examine diverse sourcing channels, measured allocation, and demand forecasting to ensure support for future natural disasters
Michael Dubose
COVID Testing Creates A New, Educated Consumer