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Need a Doctor for Strep Throat? Do an At-Home Test First

Update Date: Nov 05, 2013 09:36 AM EST

With busy schedules, not everyone can take the time out to visit their doctors once their throats get itchy. Whether it is costs, time or scheduling conflicts, people tend to self-medicate their own health conditions, especially if it is mild, such as a cough or a runny nose. Now, according to a new study, people do not have to run to their doctors right away when they believe that they have a strep throat. This study reported that an at-home test could determine if a trip to the doctor's office is necessary.

For this study, the researchers from the Boston Children's Hospital wanted to create an at-home test that would be able to rule out strep throat and prevent unnecessary doctor visits and laboratory tests. The researchers believe that once their at-home tool is completed, it could prevent around 230,000 unnecessary doctor visits. Around 12 million Americans go to their doctors for sore throats.

"One thing that can be frustrating for families is if they come in with the expectation they'll be tested for something and they're not," the lead author of the study, Dr. Andrew Fine stated to Reuters Health.

For this study, Fine and colleagues set out to create a tool that would inform the individual of his or her risk of strep throat. The researchers hope that if people see how low their chances are, they will not attempt to get unnecessary tests done. Furthermore, if these individuals choose not to go to their doctors, they could avoid being prescribed antibiotics and other treatments that are not needed.

The team analyzed information that was gathered between September 2006 and December 2008. There were 71,776 people in total from six states over the age of 15 who went to CVS MinuteClinics seeking treatment for sore throats. The researchers compared people's medical records and their strep test results. They created a tool based on symptoms that could be used at home. The test would also take into account the incidence of strep throat within the communities where the participants came from. The researchers acknowledged that this particular number would be difficult to calculate on a larger scale, such as the nation.

"The tool that the doctors use includes physical examination findings," Fine explained. "We've removed those for the home scores so that anyone without medical training can assign themselves a score based on two symptoms - fever and cough."

The researchers administered their home tool to the participants. The tool measures one's risk on the scale from zero to 100. People who score below 10 would be considered low-risk. The researchers found that 90 percent of the participants scored below 10. The team calculated that this percentage translate to 27 fewer doctor visits for every one person who might have had strep throat but was missed by the at home tool. The researchers stated that even if the test will miss a minority of people, complications due to strep are extremely small.

Even though the at home tool might be a good idea since it will reduce costs for the health care system and could also prevent drug resistant strains from developing, several critics believe that the test would be too costly to create on a larger scale.

"I think one could make a good argument that this isn't a one-size-fits-all argument," Dr. Edward Kaplan, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, said.

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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