The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the diagnostics space and triggered its lesser-known potential. According to reports, the Indian diagnostics market, now with a size of $10 billion in FY2021, is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14% to reach $20 billion by FY26.
Reportedly, this growth will be primarily driven by increasing demographics, urbanisation, penetration, and better realisations per test. During the FE Healthcare Summit, held on September 30, one of the sessions, “Diagnostics: COVID & Beyond”, unveiled what the stakeholders in this arena feel about the emerging landscape, and the new demands on effective, accessible, and affordable diagnostics.
Financial Express.com reached out to one of the key panelists of this discussion, Deepak Sahni, Founder & CEO, Healthians, who talked about how there has been a paradigm shift in the Indian diagnostic industry. Excerpts:
You have become a key player when we talk about home diagnostics. Now, after COVID-19 people are more comfortable getting things done at their doorsteps. We have now all kinds of tests within the home diagnostics segments. With respect to chronic and complex diseases, when and how can the tests for such diseases be included in at-home testing?
I think the preview of home diagnostics goes till the end, depending upon what specimen you require. If your specimen is blood, urine, or skin, then those can be collected from home and everything can be covered up. So, it’s a 100 percent coverage that can happen. At the moment, we are adding more such things to our testing menu. The second parameter that comes in between is, how this sample can be transferred. Also sometimes there is something related to these tests that can only be done in the hospital because it doesn’t give you the time of traveling. So, it solely depends on how good your logistic network is. So, we are building a logistic network that can bring a sample back from a place to a lab in 30 minutes or 15 minutes or depending upon the sample that we have collected. So, it largely depends upon the what is sample specimen and secondly the time required for that sample to come into the lab, and if you can adjust that time into the logistics while maintaining the integrity of the sample.
If all of this can be done, then more and more tests can be done at home. We are also working towards making all these specialised tests that you are talking about possible. Blood tests, cancer markers, dual markers, pregnancy tests, and all of these are like tests and even genetics. All can be done at home. Now, even ECG is coming at home. We are also looking at portable X-Rays coming at home. So more and more of such facilities will become part of the at-home testing services. People today require convenience and comfort in their homes. The concept of people going to labs is getting old now. People don’t want to do such things anymore. Not at least in the Urban dwellings.
We have a lot of market players with respect to the Indian Diagnostic industry. There is a lot of competition. How do you see this as a challenge and an opportunity in order to maintain optimum patient care?
So, the opportunity is very large. We have actually disrupted the industry by using technology first and technology gives you all that edge. The technology gave us an edge to probably make things faster and give it in the mobile of the users where five years back from now, you didn’t know who is coming at your home, what time they are coming, you used to just wait for them. There was no visibility at all. Today, we have given in the hands of the people that you have visibility of a guy who is coming to your home, his qualification, how many people has he pricked, what is his degree, and all that stuff. The transparency and empowerment of the user are already happening.
All the technology is also working towards giving them accessibility or the reduction of time which makes everything faster. So, we started in 2014 and we were the first player in the Direct-to-Consumer market space and the early mover advantage is already with us. People are definitely coming into this market because they know it’s a low entry barrier and by the time they catch up we are way ahead. In 2015, we launched the first smart report. Right now, there are a lot of bigger players and small players who still don’t have a historical mark on smart reports. While we developed smart version two and we are now on version three, they are developing version one. It’s a long learning curve for them to come over and then the technology will always keep you ahead and if you are continuously innovating. What we disrupted, we are continuously disrupting rather than somebody else coming in disrupting us.
There is a rising trend of blood-drawn tests, even for complex diseases like cancer. How do you see it with respect to the reliability factor?
The reliability is very high. You have to understand why are you getting this test done. We have always seen India as a market where people are younger. The disease burden is largely because of lifestyle and 70 percent of the expenditure in the hospital is due to such lifestyle diseases. All of this is largely a chronic area and it involves diseases like heart disorders and cancers. But it is not something for which you need the results immediately. So, the consumer is largely younger and because the consumer is younger they are looking at more preventive and chronic tests we see this market to be much larger and that is why these blood tests have made it more accessible to people. Initially, people used to first go to the doctor and do tests according to the doctor’s instructions. Now, people already have an impact on their lifestyle and they are self-aware. Now, they know what needs to be done. So, this market is quite large. That’s why we came in, and that’s why we are growing at around 180 percent annually. Unfortunately, the whole industry has always focused on the market of illness and then there are very specific tests and specific requirements. While a much larger population of India is not yet ill. They are getting illness but from a chronic illness so we are trying to focus on that rather than the former.
As you mentioned the majority of the market is focused on illness, so there are two sides of the market one that deals with symptomatic treatment and one that focuses on preventive care. What have been your market expectations and accomplishments?
We have largely been into the preventive and chronic disease segments. This is 70 percent of what we cover and 30 percent we cover the other segment. We offer a wide range of tests. The trends are changing now. The trends are changing now. Today, we cover around 1600 tests and we will be adding up to around 2500 this year itself which will be almost 98-99 percent of all tests.
What are the key areas that the diagnostic market needs to focus on at the moment?
There are two things: one is where the market is larger. I think the conditions which are impacting the whole world are diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These are becoming the biggest diseases across the world. If you are only focused on this, be it disease management or hospital or diagnostic or any healthcare company, I think there is a large scope and you can actually make a big impact. As this is something that is killing the world right now. When it comes to the wider range of other tests, then there are other diseases like neurological diseases, skin diseases, and autoimmune diseases, but these are like niches and for these, you need more specialised testing and at the moment the tests we do is not confirmatory tests. Like for cancer, there are a lot of markers but none of them can confirm. But these tests are good for screening. Such tests are good to know if your parameters are good or not and ultimately, help to diagnose and begin the treatment. You are basically, preventing these diseases through such tests. Right now, there is a market for screening, and screening is done by a large population in India whose health is not great.
Are you planning to launch any new tests in the coming months?
We are already working on introducing various tests. We have launched a lot of specialised tests. There are new tests coming in to our existing menu of tests. We are also working on launching something which is very specialised with respect to the Indian population.