How Good are COVID Test Instructions?

Rick Lesaar
8 min readJul 2
The five tests reviewed.

During the week of May 27, 2023 the U. S. recorded 653 deaths and 7,710 new hospitalizations due to COVID. [1] The disease is still here and many of us continue to test, either out of caution before seeing friends and relatives with weakened immunity or when we ourselves believe we may have been exposed.

So, from a communications standpoint, how good are the instructions provided with those tests? Based on a look at five randomly-selected tests, their instruction sets vary considerably in quality and clarity.

Which Tests?

By my count, the U. S. Food & Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for 38 at-home COVID antigen tests, 34 of which are currently authorized. [ 2 ] Of those, I chose to look at five that are widely available: BinaxNOW, iHealth, Pilot, QuickVue, and Flowflex (see Figure 1). (You can see the instructions for these tests online using the links in footnote [ 3 ] at the end of this article.) I can’t say how representative these tests are or how they compare with the other 29, so what follows are just observations about these five tests, not conclusions about the full range of at-home COVID tests.

Figure 1: The five tests reviewed.

To Be Fair

Each of the Authorization letters for these tests contained the following (see Figure 2), suspending FDA’s normal requirements for packaging, labeling, etc. Is it fair then to judge these products’ packaging and instructions from a design and communications viewpoint? I think so, because suspending these requirements doesn’t mean the tests’ manufacturers/distributors should be any less diligent in producing clear and easily understood instructions, particularly at a time when there was a great deal of anxiety and confusion surrounding testing specifically and COVID generally.

Figure 2: Except from an FDA Emergency Use Authorization letter. Highlighting mine.

Drawings and Photographs

For the most part the instruction sheets use illustrations instead of photographs most likely because these can convey information that…

Rick Lesaar

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