Many of you might be wondering if the swab tests that have been made are too many or too few and if they are at all useful.
Not many, however, wonder about something that has not been clearly discussed so far: what are the procedures and, above all, what are the costs of a throat swab? Are these procedures and costs valid reasons behind the number of swabs performed?
Why talk about the swab’s procedures and costs?
The idea of writing this article came to us from a friend, who is at home with a high temperature and worried about having been infected by the coronavirus. Since she came into contact with a person who then tested positive and is still in the hospital, our friend reached out to her general practitioner and, as expected, she had the swab test done at home.
She was very surprised when she saw the paraphernalia that was put in place to perform the swab. Below is the original photo of the medical professionals getting ready to do the swab test in our friend’s home.
Let’s go through the stages of this process again to fully understand what the procedures and the related costs are.
- The staff goes to the house of the potentially infected individual. They bring with them:
- the equipment needed to perform the collection;
- individual protection systems called personal protective equipment (PPE) for the operator who takes the sample;
- sample’s collection system.
- The staff dresses appropriately, takes the sample, collects all the material used to take the sample – which is infected – and throws it in a contaminated waste bin.
- The staff returns to the headquarters to bring back the sample.
2. TRANSFER of the sample: A relay starts from the sample collection site to the analysis laboratory, usually performed within the same region.
3. SAMPLE TEST
The main costs associated to the procedure are:
- cost of disposable material to perform the collection;
- transfer and cost of the personnel executing the collection;
- transfer and cost of the transport personnel;
- purchase of the equipment needed for the single test (prime) from specialized companies;
- depreciation of test machines;
- cost of devices used in the laboratory, laboratory personnel, technicians, doctors and laboratory equipment.
The total cost of a single swab is substantial. In the United States, where the cost of every single item is tracked with pinpoint accuracy, a swab costs around $3,000 USD!
In Italy the cost is certainly lower, due to lower personnel costs and the fact that there must be no profit margin from the medical structure; we estimate it to be around € 500-1000.
To date, 13th of March, about 86,000 swabs have been performed in Italy, for an estimated cost of between 40 and 80 million euros.
Costs that a country like Italy, which has always invested in public health and prevention as primary assets, can and must be able to afford; but for other countries such as the United States, where healthcare is private, this appears to be a crazy expense that they have yet to decide who is going to support.
There were those who ironized and said that Tom Hanks realized he had the coronavirus only because he was in Australia; if he had been in the United States he probably wouldn’t have noticed, as he would’ve had to consider a good reason to take a test that costs $3,000 USD!
Marco De Nardin, M.D., Anesthesiologist, and Critical Care Doctor