Evaluating point-of-care testing for glycosylated haemoglobin in public sector primary care facilities in the Western Cape, South Africa
Background. Diabetes mellitus contributes significantly to the burden of disease in South Africa (SA). Monitoring of glycaemic control with glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c) is recommended, even though current laboratory-based testing does not support immediate clinical decision-making.
Objectives. To evaluate the costs and consequences for quality of care by introducing point-of-care (POC) testing for HbA1c for patients with type 2 diabetes at community health centres in Cape Town, SA.
Methods. A quasi-experimental study was conducted at two control and two intervention sites in the same sub-district. The DCA Vantage Analyzer (Siemens, Germany) for POC testing was introduced at the intervention sites for 12 months. Patients were randomly selected from the diabetes register at the intervention (n=300) and control (n=300) sites, respectively, and data were collected from patient records at baseline and 12 months. Focus group interviews were performed at the intervention sites. Technical quality and cost implications were evaluated.
Results. POC testing was feasible, easy to integrate into the organisation of care, resulted in more immediate feedback to patients (p<0.001) and patients appeared more satisfied. POC testing did not improve test coverage, treatment intensification, counselling or glycaemic control. There was an incremental cost of ZAR2 110 per 100 tests. Compliance with quality control was poor, although control tests showed good reliability.
Conclusion. This study does not support the introduction of POC testing for HbA1c in public sector primary care practice in the current context. POC testing should be evaluated further in combination with interventions to overcome clinical inertia and strengthen primary healthcare.