World-first bedside blood test good for people, good for health system

  • Hon Andrew Little

A single blood test that can diagnose heart attacks in minutes instead of hours, saving the health system millions of dollars and getting patients treated faster, is being rolled out in New Zealand hospitals, says Health Minister Andrew Little.

“This research, led by emergency doctors at Christchurch Hospital, is ground-breaking,” Andrew Little said.

“Using a new high-precision bedside blood-test, doctors can tell within eight minutes whether a person turning up in the emergency department with chest pain is having a heart attack.

“Clearly, this is good for patients – those who can go home instead of spending hours in hospital worrying they are having heart attacks, and those who actually are having heart attacks and get the treatment they need sooner.

“But it’s also good for the health system, because sending people home within an hour of arrival takes pressure off the hospital and frees an ED bed up for someone else.”

The research team, led by Dr Martin Than, has been working for a decade on finding better ways of diagnosing heart attacks. Their methods won a prestigious global healthcare award in 2020 and are now being used in other hospitals across the country, where they have reduced the median stay of cardiac patients in ED by three hours and saved the health system an estimated $50 million to $70 million.

The real break-through, however, is the development of a blood test that can be analysed at the bedside in minutes, but is still as precise as a laboratory test.

The iCare-Faster project (improving Care by FAster risk-STratfication in the EmeRgency Department) was awarded $1.15 million from the Government’s Health Research Council in 2019, but work was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, however, Christchurch Hospital ED is the first in the world to start using the fast, high-precision bedside troponin blood test. And from February, 10 more hospitals – Whangārei, North Shore, Waitakere, Waikato, Rotorua, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Nelson and Timaru – will start using it too

“If successful, this technology offers huge benefits for New Zealanders right across New Zealand,” Andrew Little said.

“The changes we’ve made to the health system, bringing 20 district health boards together into one organisation, mean it’s easier to spread great ideas like this to other parts of the country, including rural areas, where being able to be treated close to home will be a real benefit.”

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