Point-of-care COVID-19 antigen testing in German emergency rooms - a cost-benefit analysis

Pulmonology. 2022 May-Jun;28(3):164-172. doi: 10.1016/j.pulmoe.2021.06.009. Epub 2021 Jul 6.


Background: The current COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant morbidity and death worldwide and produces significant socio-economic losses.

Objective: To assess the cost-benefit relation of implementing point-of-care COVID-19 antigen testing (POCT) in emergency rooms (ER) of German hospitals.

Methods: A deterministic decision-analytic model simulated the incremental costs of using the Sofia® SARS Antigen FIA test compared to those of using clinical judgement alone to confirm or exclude COVID-19 in adult patients in German ER, prior to hospitalization. Direct and indirect costs, with and without subsequent RT-PCR confirmation, were evaluated from the hospital perspective.

Results: With respect to ER patients, in base-case analysis, considering a COVID-19 prevalence of 15.6% and a hospitalization rate among COVID-19 suspects of 10.1%, POCT testing reduces average costs of hospitalized patients by €213 per tested patient if nasopharyngeal swabs of patients suspected to have COVID-19 are also sent to external labs for RT-PCR testing. In probabilistic sensitivity analysis, under all reasonable assumptions, implementing the Sofia® SARS Antigen FIA saves on average about €210 as compared to applying the clinical-judgement-only strategy. The major part of cost savings, €159 or 75.9%, is due to the POC test´s high specificity resulting in a 21-fold lower proportion of unnecessary bed blocking at the first day of hospitalization.

Conclusions: Using highly specific rapid COVID-19 tests in COVID-19 suspects at German ER, despite of their sub-optimal sensitivity, may significantly reduce hospital expenditure.

Keywords: Antigen testing; COVID-19; Cost-benefit analysis; Point-of-care; Real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR); SARS-CoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Point-of-Care Systems
  • SARS-CoV-2