Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to medical testing.
iHealth is a healthcare brand that sells a COVID test called iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test. The brand claims that their test is CDC-compliant, and that it delivers results in only 15 minutes.
But what type of COVID test is iHealth's test, and is it actually accurate? How does the accuracy of iHealth's COVID test compare to the accuracy of other popular COVID tests? Are there free COVID testing options? And does iHealth's test expire?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we explain what type of technology the iHealth test relies on and how its accuracy compares to other types of COVID tests.
We'll also explain how patients can access free COVID testing, explain how iHealth's device is used, document whether or not it's FDA-approved and provide a cost comparison featuring the retailer that sells iHealth COVID test for the best price.
We'll also explain how to check if your iHealth test kit is active or expired.
Is iHealth’s COVID Test Accurate?
iHealth's COVID test relies on a technology called antigen testing (which we'll explain in more detail in the next section), and this type of COVID test may be less accurate than a different type of COVID test called reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).
A 2021 medical review compared the effectiveness of different types of COVID tests, and found RT-PCR testing to be the most accurate.
In asymptomatic patients, the antigen test only correctly identified 60.5% of those with COVID compared to the RT-PCR results.
The study authors noted that in asymptomatic patients, antigen testing was significantly less accurate, leading them to conclude that RT-PCR tests should be the default option when a patient is suspected to have COVID-19: “The lower sensitivity of antigen tests compared with RT-PCR testing supports the strategy of using a more sensitive NAAT test if there is high clinical suspicion for COVID-19.”
It's worth noting that the test kit used in the study was not manufactured by iHealth, but both test kits use the same technology (antigen testing) so we believe the results are broadly applicable.
Overall, we consider iHealth's COVID test to be somewhat accurate, and potentially useful for determining COVID status, but the technology used seems clearly inferior to RT-PCR testing.
But are false positive results a real risk with iHealth's device? We'll review in the next section.
Are False Positives a Real Risk?
Given the potentially less accurate results from antigen testing, consumers are often curious about whether false positive test results are a legitimate concern.
In our opinion, the risk of false negatives is a bigger issue than false positives in regard to iHealth's test.
The reason is two-fold.
First, a false negative result can risk the health of the patient. A 2020 medical review documented that early detection improves survival rates from COVID, and a patient who receives a false negative result may delay further testing until symptoms become more apparent.
Second, antigen testing appears to be much more accurate at detecting patients without COVID than patients with COVID.
The medical review we cited in the accuracy section documents that antigen testing showed a false negative result 39.5% of the time in asymptomatic patients with COVID (compared to RT-PCR), but showed a false positive result only 0.5% of the time in patients without COVID.
One way to reduce the risk of false negative rates is to complete multiple rounds of testing. If a COVID test provides a false negative result 40% of the time, the chance it provides a false negative result twice in a row is only 16%.
Testing three times would decrease that potential false negative percentage to 6.4%.
When Do iHealth's COVID Tests Expire?
In January of 2023, the FDA granted iHealth a 12-to-15 month extension on the shelf life of their COVID tests.
The specific expiration date varies by lot.
iHealth customers can visit this resource page on the brand's website to check the expiration date for their specific lot.
The resource page linked above also states that iHealth intends to continually apply for shelf-life extensions from the FDA based on results from their ongoing stability testing, so customers should be sure to check both for any FDA notices or the expiration on the above-linked page before throwing out any old tests, because the expiration date may be pushed back.
How Does Antigen Testing Work?
Antigen testing is a type of medical testing commonly performed to detect respiratory infections. It’s not only used to detect COVID-19, but also to detect the common flu.
According to the CDC, antigen tests are most accurate when performed while the patient is symptomatic.
The way antigen tests actually work, according to the American Society for Microbiology, is by detecting a specific type of protein unique to COVID-19 from patient swabs.
Antigen tests provide results back to the patient quickly; typically in under an hour and often in under 30 minutes. This is one of their advantages compared to other types of infection testing.
Free COVID Testing Options
Patients should be aware that a number of free COVID testing resources are available throughout the US.
RT-PCR testing appears to be more accurate than antigen testing based on our review of clinical data, and there are several resources available to US patients for finding free RT-PCR COVID testing sites.
The pharmacy brand CVS has over 1,500 COVID-19 testing sites and testing may be free depending on insurance and location. Input your ZIP code and find the closest location to you: https://www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-19-testing
The Department of Human Health Services (HHS) maintains an updated database of over 20,000 sites where patients can access free or discounted COVID testing, both RT-PCR and antigen testing depending on location: https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/community-based-testing-sites/index.html
The US government also will ship COVID tests to your door at no cost, and according to this government resource, every US household is eligible for four test kits at no cost: https://www.covid.gov/tests
Where to Buy iHealth COVID Test for the Best Price
iHealth COVID Test is available at a variety of online retailers. Here's a price breakdown for a 2-pack at the time of updating this article:
Walmart: $17.98 (plus $6.99 shipping, link)
Amazon: $17.98 (free shipping – link to official Amazon listing)
Brand website: $17.98 (free shipping – link)
Buying iHealth's COVID test is currently 25% cheaper on the brand's website and on Amazon than on Walmart when factoring in shipping fees.
How to Properly Use iHealth COVID Test
iHealth has a instruction manual for their COVID test which isn’t very easily accessible or well-defined on their site.
To access the test instructions, individuals need to visit the brand's test details page, and scroll down to the “Downloadable Resources” header.
The test instructions can be downloaded by clicking on the “Quick Start Guide for Consumers” link.
We don’t understand why the brand titles product instructions “Quick Start Guide for Consumers” rather than “Instructions for Use” which would be much more clear.
Here's a summary of the instructions:
- Prepare materials
- Collect sample
- Process sample
- Add sample
- Wait 15 minutes
- Read result
- Test result explanation
- Dispose the test kit
The entire process should take under 30 minutes.
The brand also has an instructional video on YouTube with over 3 million views:
Real Customers Review iHealth COVID Test
Amazon is a better resource for honest customer reviews than a brand's website in our opinion.
iHealth's COVID Test has been reviewed over 200,000 times on Amazon, with an average review rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The top positive review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "Kristine" who claims the video instructions make the test convenient:
"This is my preferred vendor for the Covid test. I like that the app on my iPhone walks me through the procedure every single time. The test is easy to self-administer and is only mildly uncomfortable sticking a q-tip up your nose. It also allows you to have more than one person on the account, so we can test as a family and report the results by person."
The top negative review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "Matthew C Smith" who claims the device failed to show a result:
"I bought a few boxes of these, and yes, whilst the expiry date was close, I did also read that the FDA extended that date - yet another reason to not believe such things.
Anyway, the last few boxes I have used, they just did not work, not even the control strip would show up on the reading area. I have used these in the past, successfully, and know what to expect, so am confident in my correct usage of these. What a complete waste of money."
iHealth has an average review rating of 1.35 out of 5 stars on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) page, and there's currently an alert on the page due to the number of customer complaints received about this brand, which is somewhat concerning in our opinion:
At the time of updating this article, iHealth fails to respond to the majority of customer complaints and negative reviews, which is a red flag of a low-quality brand in our opinion.
Some BBB reviewers like "Katy S" claim to have never received the products they ordered:
"I ordered 6 tests on Dec 16, 2021. Product has never shipped. I called and was told it was going out right away; that was on Dec 23rd. I have filled out their customer service form multiple times. I get an automated email reply but no actual response from the company. I'm out $36 bucks which puts me in better shape than other reports on this page."
Are iHealth COVID Tests FDA-Approved?
The FDA has issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to iHealth due to the public risk of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this product has not completed the formal FDA approval process, as documented by the FDA.
As the linked document published by the FDA states, the iHealth test “is not yet approved or cleared by the United States FDA.”
At the time of updating this article, no rapid antigen tests are currently approved by the FDA.
Interested patients can search for FDA-approved medical devices at this resource page maintained by the FDA.
Pros and Cons of iHealth COVID Test
Here are the pros and cons of iHealth's COVID test in our opinion:
- Rapid results
- Can order online and use in the safety and convenience of the home
- Highly accurate at detecting those without COVID
- False negative results may be a real risk
- Not FDA-approved
- May be less accurate than RT-PCR testing
- Requires out-of-pocket payment
- Brand fails to respond to BBB customer complaints