Appropriate use

Advantages and disadvantages

General advantages of rapid diagnostic tests

  • Easy to use, with minimal training required.
  • Relatively rapid; same-day results are possible, resulting in fewer patients lost to follow-up and quicker treatment.
  • A shelf life as long as 1-2 years at ambient temperatures, with no need for refrigeration.
  • Limited or no need for instrumentation, allowing these tests to be performed at the periphery of health systems, often where there is no laboratory or electricity, thus increasing the number of testing sites.
  • In some cases, rapid tests are more accurate than existing reference-level laboratory tests.

General disadvantages of rapid tests

  • Cost per test for rapid tests may exceed traditional testing methods such as microscopy.
  • Most rapid tests have limited shelf lives that place increased demands on procurement and distribution systems.
  • They are mainly qualitative, producing only "yes/no" answers that may yield less information than the existing laboratory-based quantitative tests.
  • They require subjective interpretation, which may result in reader variation in results.
  • In many cases, rapid tests are less sensitive or less accurate compared to existing reference-level laboratory tests.
  • Are not amenable for high throughput testing.
  • Requires extensive and robust quality control and quality assurance mechanisms.

Links to more information