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Respiratory Panel (RP) tests for a comprehensive set of 20 respiratory viral and bacterial pathogens in about an hour. The Respiratory Panel identifies the most common viral and bacterial pathogens that cause respiratory tract infections that are present with nearly indistinguishable symptoms. The rapid and accurate identification of the causative agent helps determine how a healthcare provider chooses to treat an upper respiratory tract infection.

Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The desire to control and prevent URTIs has made them a focus of efforts to develop improved diagnostic tests. Several highly-multiplexed molecular respiratory pathogen panels (RPPs) have been developed to simultaneously broaden and streamline testing for viral and some bacterial agents of URTI. Numerous studies have demonstrated improved sensitivity and specificity, broader pathogen coverage, and shortened turnaround time for these tests as compared to standard methods such as culture, direct fluorescent antibody testing, and enzyme immunoassays.

In many laboratories, RPPs have replaced traditional methods as the primary tool for aiding diagnosis of acute URTIs. Although these tests provide more information—more accurately and more rapidly—than the alternative current best standard practice, potential users and their institutions have rightly appealed for data demonstrating that the generation of this information leads to measurable improvement in health outcomes.

The primary outcome of interest for most diagnostic tests is accurate and timely identification of a patient’s condition for which effective treatment is available. While few infectious agents targeted by RPPs fall into this category, effective therapeutics can be provided for bacterial targets and for influenza. In a recent study, its was demonstrated that with implementation of an RPP that was available 24/7, 81% of patients testing positive for influenza were given or prescribed oseltamivir in the emergency department (ED) or within three hours of discharge.

Rapid Test Laboratories offers the type of testing that, while identification of a treatable condition is vastly important, it is not the only measure of clinical utility for which a diagnostic test can have significant impact for patients and the healthcare system. Other outcome measures include changes in bed management and infection control procedures, use/duration of unnecessary and potentially harmful therapies, antimicrobial stewardship (e.g., reduction of the high levels of antibiotic use in pediatric URTI patients with primarily viral infections), number of ancillary tests, laboratory/hospital costs, and healthcare consumer satisfaction. RPPs may aid improvement in several of these areas.

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