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Using multiple PCR panels to run several tests on a single sample provides a quick and effective overall assessment of patients at a low cost.
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PCR Panels Lower Health Care Costs for Acute GI Infections

Multiplex PCR panels could rapidly analyze a single stool sample for more pathogens than a conventional test repertoire

American Society for Microbiology
Published:Mar 16, 2023
|2 min read
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WASHINGTON, DC — Acute gastroenteritis afflicts adults of all ages, causing significant suffering and inflicting significant costs on the American health care system. A new study encompassing nearly 40,000 hospital visits from a geographically diverse health care database shows that sampling a single stool, using multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) panels, can identify more pathogens, notably diarrhea-causing E. coli and enteric viruses, and do so more rapidly than a conventional workup. The research is published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.  

Using multiplex PCR panels, “Fewer patients received antibiotics, required additional visits or diagnostic tests, or were hospitalized for gastroenteritis within 30 days [of index visit],” said Rena C. Moon, MD, MPH, principal research scientist, PINC AI Applied Sciences, Charlotte, NC. Additionally, health care costs were lower than with a conventional workup. Conventional workups may include testing a stool culture for a single suspect species of pathogen, use of a single pathogen PCR test, or identifying a pathogen using microscopy, immunology, or an ova and parasites test. 

“Earlier studies showed that large multiplex PCR panels improve the speed and accuracy of diagnostic testing in patients with acute gastroenteritis, but their impact on costs and clinical outcomes had been uncertain,” said Ferric C. Fang, MD, professor of laboratory medicine, pathology, and microbiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. “Our study shows that the benefits of multiplex panels can be achieved without increasing overall health care costs, and also facilitates more appropriate use of antibiotics.” 

“This study illustrates the power of big data to analyze the health care impacts of diagnostic testing, and help laboratories select testing approaches that improve meaningful clinical outcomes,” said Fang. 

Using multiplex PCR, more patients could be discharged and did not require hospitalization during the following month. That resulted in similar health care costs to patients undergoing the traditional stool workup plus follow-up visits over the following month. Furthermore, multiplex PCR (using 12 or more) panels were associated with reduced administration of antibiotics to hospitalized patients. 

The overall result: improved care with lower costs.

- This press release was originally published on the American Society for Microbiology website