What are rapid tests?

Rapid tests, also known as rapid diagnostic tests or RDTs, are easy-to-use tests that provide quick results, usually in 20 minutes or less. Unlike most standard tests, which have to be sent to a lab, rapid tests are done and provide results at the point of care. The point of care is the place where you are getting care. It can include your provider’s office, a clinic, or even your own home.

Rapids tests usually include the following steps:

  • You will provide a sample of your body fluid, such as blood, urine, saliva, or nasal secretions.
  • The sample is mixed with a special substance that will cause a chemical reaction if a disease or other condition is present.
  • Results will show on a dipstick or rapid test cassette.
    • A dipstick is a thin, plastic strip that’s coated with chemicals. If the test is positive, the dipstick will change colors when placed in the sample.
    • A rapid test cassette is a small, plastic case that has a well that holds the sample. The well will show a letter or a symbol to indicate the result.

Most rapid tests are highly accurate, but the results are not always as accurate as standard lab tests.

Other names: rapid diagnostic tests, RDT’s point-of-care tests