Feeling Sick? How Your Pharmacy Can Help Diagnose with Testing Services

November 2021

When you’re feeling sick, it’s important to quickly find out why. Whether it’s strep throat, the flu, or COVID-19, the sooner treatment can start, the better.

That’s where on-site testing can help. With on-site testing, your results are typically available within minutes rather than hours or days, as is the case with traditional testing that goes to a central laboratory. That’s why these tests are called rapid diagnostic tests.

Your community pharmacist may offer many of the same diagnostic tests your doctor or urgent care facility can perform.

What type of testing is available at pharmacies?

Commonly available diagnostic tests at your local pharmacy may include the following:

  • Strep throat. Within 10 to 20 minutes, this rapid antigen test helps diagnose if you have strep throat. It looks for antigens to strep A bacteria. For this test, a special swab is used to take a sample from the back of your throat and tonsils.
  • Flu. This is an immunoassay test that looks for the presence of Influenza A and B viruses. For this test, a special swab is inserted into your nose to take a sample from the middle and back of your nostrils. Results take approximately 15 minutes.
  • COVID-19 rapid antigen test. This is a nasal swab test. You can get your results on-site usually within 15 minutes.
  • COVID-19 antibody test. This test detects a previous COVID-19 infection. Because it doesn’t detect an active COVID-19 infection, it shouldn’t be taken when symptoms are present. This test uses a small finger prick to draw blood. It’s processed on site with results usually coming in within 15 minutes. This test helps identify if you are likely resistant to the COVID-19 illness because of having antibodies from prior exposure or illness.
  • Combination tests, such as strep and flu, and COVID-19 and flu.

Why use a community pharmacy for diagnostic testing?

The next time you’re feeling under the weather, consider going to your community pharmacy. The benefits of using a community pharmacy include the following:

  • Convenience. Your community pharmacy often has more locations than your doctor’s office, so there’s bound to be one close to you. You don’t have to wait for a doctor’s appointment — or wait in line at urgent care — to get a rapid test. In addition, pharmacies usually offer more flexible hours. This means you can get tested outside of normal office hours.
  • Trust. You already have a relationship with your community pharmacy. You’ve relied on them to answer your questions regarding prescriptions and medications. You use the pharmacy all the time for your prescription and over-the-counter medication needs. Your pharmacist is trained and qualified to perform these tests.
  • One-stop care. Depending on your test results, your pharmacist can help you choose over-the-counter medications, supplements, and other supplies to help you feel better. They can also work with your doctor for any prescription medications you might need. You can get your test results and fill your prescription and other medications all in one appointment.

Do all pharmacies offer testing?

Although there’s some federal oversight of diagnostic tests, states are largely responsible for regulating these tests, including who can perform them, according to the American Association of Clinical Chemistry. This can affect both whether pharmacies can offer the tests and which tests they can offer. Because not all pharmacies will have every test, be sure to call ahead.

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