Correction: This story has been updated to properly identify the type of antibody tests HealthTrackRx offers.
A national infectious disease doctor is now leading Denton-based laboratory HealthTrackRx’s efforts to expand its COVID-19 testing.
Dr. Ravina Kullar, who holds a master’s in public health in biostatistics and epidemiology and a Doctor of Pharmacy, was named the director of clinical and medical affairs of the national testing provider Dec. 28. Kullar plans to use her experience in infectious disease to help inform the laboratory’s work in PCR testing, a molecular test that, in the case of COVID-19, detects the virus’s genetic material.
The position was created for Kullar in part because of HealthTrackRx’s growth — the lab has conducted over 3 million COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began, accounting for 98% of the lab’s panels. With that volume of testing has come a lot of questions from health care providers, which Kullar will help field in her new role.
“I think a lot of people are trying to figure out what to do with all the tests, and I think that’s been our Achilles’ heel of COVID-19 from the beginning — we’ve got all these tests, PCR testing, antibody testing — where do they fit in the paradigm?” Kullar said. “If any of those providers have a question, they reach out to me, and it’s like I’m like the infectious disease consultant on the phone.”
One of the advantages of antibody tests like the one HealthTrackRx offers is that it provides not just a positive or negative result for antibodies but can provide the number of antibodies present so health care workers can make more informed decisions.
Kullar said widespread COVID-19 testing will be a key component of reopening many workplaces safely and continuing to help slow the spread of the virus.
“I think we need to really use antibody tests and PCR tests to the utmost capability for workplaces, for instance, that are trying to reopen safely,” Kullar said. “They should look at antibody testing to see if their patient has had COVID-19 in the past and do they have any antibodies, because that’s going to be protective, and what’s the percentage of people in their workplace that do because then you have almost like an inside bubble of immunity.”
Kullar believes the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for laboratories such as HealthTrackRx to innovate and expand the services they provide. The infectious disease lab was established in Denton in 2010 and offers testing to individual practitioners and health care systems across the United States. HealthTrackRx provides six different testing panels and offers testing across multiple specialties, senior director of marketing Erin Waller said.
“I think our plan is to think about other situations like the drive-thru and thinking about where we can offer some of our testing,” Kullar said. “With things reopening now, maybe offering some workplace contracting and even thinking about wedding situations or conferences, like contracting with us beforehand, giving them those PCR tests, getting those test results shipped back and they can give them the results prior to the events. We’re thinking along those lines in terms of there will be a point that the world will be back open, and how can we effectively help it do that in a safe manner.”
Though Kullar lives in Los Angeles and will visit the Denton location only periodically, she will, like many in the COVID-19 era, work remotely, spending much of her time talking to physicians and coaching sales representatives in the science behind the tests. Kullar also will bring another area of longtime research to her new role, which she said is particularly relevant amid COVID-19.
“Typically, what’s happening is that a patient comes in and they test COVID negative, they’re still somewhat sick, they’re going to give them a Z-pack [Zithromax], which is an antibiotic that they may not even need; they may just have a viral infection and not a bacterial infection,” Kullar said. “There’s studies that have shown inappropriate use of antibiotics has gone off during this pandemic because people have been giving antibiotics just in case, and that’s my fear is that when COVID-19 is over, antibiotic resistance surges way up.”
Education is central to fighting antibiotic misuse, which Kullar said will continue to be a focus as she collaborates with healthcare professionals. Since PCR testing can help providers pinpoint pathogenic causes to illness, it can both combat mis-prescribing antibiotics for non-bacterial causes and give doctors insight into what treatment might work best.
But innovation in the testing industry as a whole is far from over, Kullar said. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped highlight the strides the medical field needs to take to provide diagnostic processes that are more effective and accessible in times of crisis, work she hopes to continue to be a part of.
“We have not educated the public enough as to when to use these tests, and just give them more knowledge so I would say that something that we’ve learned, is just having more and better testing available,” Kullar said. “I still think our Achilles’ heel is that we still don’t have good testing in place for those people who are asymptomatic, since as many as 50% of people who have COVID are asymptomatic, and most PCR tests are not able to pick that up. You have to have a high enough viral threshold to really have that detected through any test, so why do we not have any test sets available that can pick up those asymptomatic people that are at a very low viral threshold?
“I think it’s something we can learn from, is investing more from a government aspect and also from an entire world aspect on more diagnostic testing in all infections.”