NPEx: Serving as an Electronic Enabler for COVID-19 Testing

The National Pathology Exchange (NPEx), which enables laboratories to electronically exchange requests and reports for lab-to-lab send-away tests, has harnessed its solution to aid with the response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK. By facilitating exchange of the SARS-COV-2 test through its system, NPEx is enabling NHS laboratories to quickly and efficiently send test requests to other NHS and Public Health England laboratories, who perform the test and send the result.

NPEx reduces turnaround times for COVID-19 tests and the subsequent return of results. Laboratories that are not connected to NPEx currently depend on snail mail, manual transcription, document scanning and email for the processes of requesting and returning results. Tests sent through NPEx are immediately and automatically sent from one laboratory information system (LIS) to another without these unnecessary stages and the status of the shipment and result are tracked and audited throughout the process. Access to results in a timelier manner means patients will be able to self-isolate or quarantine themselves sooner, which will help to prevent the spread of the disease or enable them to continue caring for vulnerable family and members of their community.

NHS laboratories are working around the clock to bring equipment in-house to perform the SARS-COV-2 test for patients in hospital beds and in the local community. To increase their capacity, laboratories are looking to regional and national laboratory services, such as Public Health England (PHE) laboratories and NHS teaching hospitals, which requires them to send the test away. This leaves a dependency for technology to enable the logistics of lab-to-lab test referrals and avoid the lengthy manual processes which delay result turnarounds. NPEx adds value to the testing pathway; without technology such as this, referring outside of an NHS organisation can be prohibitive, and potentially damaging, as samples and results are not tracked and must be transcribed.

The NPEx team have postponed all business activity while the COVID-19 outbreak is ongoing in the UK to focus, primarily, on getting all live NPEx labs referring or reporting COVID-19 tests electronically with a view to aiding ongoing NPEx deployments to go live with COVID-19 tests. This has included running NHS England and Improvement facilitated NPEx training sessions over Webex for laboratories who are yet to refer COVID-19 tests electronically. The NPEx team will be offering more of these sessions to referrers, performers, and NHS laboratories outside of England.

Not only are NPEx working closely with their users to enable labs to test for COVID-19, but they are working with NHS and government organisations to aid the national response to the outbreak. NHS England and Improvement recommend in their Guidance and Standard Operating Procedure: COVID-19 Virus Testing in NHS Laboratories that ‘electronic requesting and reporting should be the accepted standard. All laboratories referring and receiving requests should seek to automate this process. Many laboratories are linked via the NPEx or similar. These links should be used if available.’ PHE’s Manchester laboratory are a long-term NPEx user and PHE’s Colindale laboratory have recently experienced electronic testing successes for COVID-19 through NPEx and will be live on the system by Friday 20th March. This means both laboratories have the means of receiving test requests from NHS laboratories and returning results more quickly.

NPEx’s aim during this time is to assist national organisations, laboratories, on-the-ground healthcare staff, and patients to respond to the pandemic in the UK. This does not only include increasing the use of NPEx across the UK pathology arena but extends to enhancing the solution to make it even more of an enabler. Currently, the NPEx team are working to incorporate patient telephone numbers in the patient information section of NPEx messages. This will allow patients with negative results to be contacted quickly and efficiently by text when their result is generated and returned to the requester.

During this uncertain and rapidly changing landscape, the NPEx team are working constantly to coordinate our response and aid the UK’s healthcare system in any way they can. We will update our users on any information they need to know via THIS Service Desk announcements and social media. Please follow @thisnhsnpex on Twitter and, if you are not on our mailing list, email to be added to the Service Desk list.