After the COVID-19 pandemic, the perspective towards healthcare and diagnostics has changed. The increasing number of players in the diagnostics segment has also opened doors to better patient care and disease control.
During the second edition of the FE Healthcare Summit which was held on September 30, key industry experts talked about how the disruptions in diagnostics, changing cost dynamics, and intense competition have necessitated a redesigning of the approach in diagnostics.
Financial Express.com got a chance to talk to Anand K, CEO, SRL Diagnostics, one of the key panelists of the session “Diagnostics: COVID & Beyond” during the FE Healthcare Summit. Anand highlighted that after the coronavirus pandemic the expectations of the customers have changed. Excerpts:
There has been a lot of focus on Non-Communicable Diseases in the Diagnostic segment. What more needs to be done in this segment?
First of all, there is a need to create more awareness about these diseases. People need to get tested at the right time. Early diagnosis is critical whether it is diabetes or heart disease, early diagnosis is important. Testing is important at various stages of life like at 30 what tests need to be done or at 40 what tests need to be done and the frequency of such tests is also important.
At present, what are the key challenges, that are being faced by the diagnostic players of the country? How this challenge can become an opportunity for them?
India has a very large healthcare industry and a major of this industry including the diagnostic space comes under the private sector. Almost 60 percent of the healthcare facility is provided by the private sector. But we also have to note that in India 80-90 percent of the healthcare expenditure is out of pocket. We don’t have any pair mix where you can say there is insurance or other sources where you can say the patient can get the funding. So, that is another challenge. We have a huge unorganised sector and the barriers of entry are very less and only 15 percent is organised. So, that offers both a challenge and an opportunity. The opportunity is there is huge scope for consolidation.
So, you can get market share from these companies as well as look at probably acquiring some of the players who have strategically fit returns. For patient care, it is important to maintain quality. Since 85 percent is an unorganized sector, the perception of quality is very different. The trust and reliability of reports become a very big issue. It’s important for us to project that in the front. I think the pandemic has enhanced the awareness about quality. Now, they will not go to a neighbourhood laboratory to get tested. The expectations of customers have changed and this will drive more patients to organised sector.
Lot of experts today pointed out the need for public-private partnerships in the healthcare sector. How do you see that happening or playing role in the diagnostic industry?
I think this is very important and even more so in diagnostics. As I told you, 60 percent of healthcare services are provided by the private sector and in diagnostics, it is even more as 80 percent of services are provided by the private players. If you want to provide the last mile connectivity and reach out to tier 3 and tier 4 cities, villages, or rural populations you need the help of the public sector. Today, most of our business comes from urban conglomerates. So, it’s not actually happening on the rural side. In rural areas, the diagnosis is very less, very limited. So, to bring that kind of change, it’s only through, public-private partnerships. If we can reach out or set up a model in district hospitals, community development blocks, or block-level hospitals, you will have different options to cater to different requirements through public-private partnerships.
We are evolving but not just us pathogens too. There is a rise in zoonotic diseases. Do you think the diagnosis of such diseases can become a market opportunity for diagnostic players?
Players like SRL have their own R&D department and we have over the 15 years developed a lot of assays on our own. We call it lab development assays. So, we are able to quickly develop for example when Zika Virus came, so we quickly developed test for Zika Virus. When monkeypox came we developed a test for monkeypox. The government didn’t allow us to do the testing because they were doing and they didn’t open it for private. But we were ready with the test. So, today it is possible with the kind of R&D infrastructure that we have, we can quickly develop a test for any new infection. So, using our resources and the scientists that we have we are able to quickly do that. So, that we can help the government whenever it is required. Everything will not get commercialised and commercial kits may not be available for all diseases. Some of the diseases are so specific for particular geography that you know it doesn’t make commercial sense for large companies to create test kits also. So, it’s important for labs to have their own lab-developed assays which are validated and right for the particular infection.
Affordability-wise how do you think the diagnostic market has evolved?
As I said during the panel discussion also, affordability wise we are the best today across the world. If you compare us with Bangladesh or countries in Africa we are cheaper on most of the tests and the quality that we offer is much higher than what is being offered in other countries. If you take the US or the UK or any Western-European country, we are almost one-fifth or one-seventh of the pricing they have for these tests. We talk about turn-around time. The turn-around that we get in India is much superior to UK or US. In terms of value for money, we have a much better way of looking at things. There is always cross-subsidisation that happens. So, we don’t have a single price across the country. Our pricing in Delhi is different from what is being offered in smaller towns. So, differential pricing is one of the key features of the diagnostic industry as all the expenses are out of pocket. So, it’s important to match the criteria of the population we serve.
According to you, what are diseases that diagnostically need special attention at the moment?
I think there are a lot of the currently prevalent diseases that we already know a lot about but are still not able to control important like Tuberculosis. TB is such a big disease, a burden for the country. This disease has a longer span of treatment and compliance with treatment is very important. If somebody gives up in between then the whole resistance starts. The drug resistance in TB is more disastrous. I think there are bigger disease burdens that we still haven’t really understood or grappling with to get to their eradication. We are talking about TB eradication for many years, even now recently the Health Ministry has come up with the Nikshay programme. Many things are being done but it is still there. TB is no longer the disease of the poor.