Tools to determine if you have a Strep infection
Sometime in the very near future you will be able to enter information into your cell phone and get a score that will assist you in deciding whether or not you should go to the doctor to evaluate your sore throat for Strep infection. The phrase “There is an app for that” may come into fruition for some other common health issues as well.
This is good news for the more than 12 million people who go to the doctor’s every year to get a sore throat evaluated. Most likely, it ends up being from a virus that cannot be treated with anything other than a tincture of time anyway. Reducing doctors visits could help alleviate strain on an already overburdened health care system. In addition to reducing unnecessary testing, there is also an opportunity to reduce the chance of prescribing an antibiotic that will not help treat a virus and only contribute to the ever growing problem of drug resistance.
Research from the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that a new risk measure called a “home score” may allow patients with symptoms to decipher at home whether or not a doctor’s visit is warranted. This research was conducted by Andrew Fine, MD, MPH, and Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, of Boston Children's Hospital. The “home score” combines patient symptoms along with local strep data in the community. This information together can estimate their strep risk, allowing them to decide whether to seek care or not. This at home risk score is thought to be the first health care tool that brings together individually contributed data along with community public health data. This allows or an individual risk assessment for a communicable disease. Other illnesses could be scored in the same way.
The tool measures risk on a scale from 0 to 100. Anyone with a score below 10 was considered at low risk. Dr Fine found that 90 percent of the people who scored below 10 on the “home score” would have tested negative for strep throat in the clinic anyhow.
The score is calculated using a patient's symptoms and age. It then takes into account statistical data by Mandl and Fine, of Boston Children's Division of Emergency Medicine and Informatics Program. That data indicates the recent strep incidence in the patient's location. If the “home score” is low, then the risk of having a strep infection is also low and therefore a doctor's visit is not needed. The future plans are for an online tool or smart phone application that would feed live surveillance data. By simply plugging in your symptoms and age you could conceivably get a risk score and decide if you should get a strep test.
"Using the home score could empower patients to make informed decisions about their medical care by contributing information about their symptoms," said Fine. "Integrating local epidemiologic context with the symptom information permits calculation of a personal, local risk of strep throat."
Based on their research, Mandl and Fine indicate that this could eliminate over 200,000 unnecessary doctor visits for strep throat screening in the U.S. every year.