The healthcare industry is witnessing technology-driven advances at an exponential rate. Laboratory medicine is one facet of healthcare that has generated considerable levels of innovation. This article offers an insight into how the impact of diagnostics on health outcomes can be improved.
By Nikhil Vazirani,
The pandemic has greatly accelerated the innovation wave in Indian healthcare sector especially in the diagnostics sector which became crucial for COVID-19 testing. While there have been significant improvements across the healthcare spectrum, diagnostics has a huge potential to ignite growth and benefit millions of our people by overcoming the issues faced by our very large and diverse country.
As per a WHO study, although diagnostics comprise less than 5% of hospital costs, their findings influence 60–70% of healthcare decision-making. In the developing world, diagnostics is often a negligible proportion of healthcare spending. India has one of the lowest spend on diagnostics in the world.
A lack of affordability, accessibility, and awareness surrounding healthcare services, especially laboratory medicine, continues to inhibit the penetration of quality medical services, especially in rural regions, where the majority of the Indian population lives.
WHO estimates that ‘at least 80% of premature heart disease, strokes and diabetes and 40% of cancer could be prevented through early diagnosis and lifestyle changes such as healthy diet, regular physical activity and avoidance of tobacco products’. This means that India needs comprehensive awareness and diagnostic screening programs for both communicable and non-communicable diseases to prevent the huge economical cost of these avoidable diseases estimated at over 1.5 % of GDP.
Improving healthcare systems to sustain innovations
The focus has to shift from just treatment to early diagnosis, to prevent rather than cure. And, this can be made possible only if we start creating awareness of risk factors, disease symptoms and benefits of regular health check-ups. Along with innovations to increase the reach and availability of diagnostics services at all levels- primary, secondary and tertiary care, focus on effective disease prevention is a must for developing countries like India.
Independence from imports for breeding local healthcare innovation ecosystem
It is impossible for a huge country like India to be able to provide affordable and accessible healthcare for its 1.3 billion citizens if it remains dependent on imports to as high extent as 70-80%. Atma Nirbhar Bharat in medical devices is not an option but an absolute necessity.
The Government plays a critical role in driving this shift. For instance, the implementation of GSThas led to imported devices being cheaper by 11%. In addition, there being no import duty on most medical devices including blood analyzers, high infrastructure costs, inverted import duty structure etc. makes it extremely difficult for the Indian manufacturers to compete with low cost imports and at the same time invest huge amounts on R&D. As a result, very little new investment is going in to medical devices sector. Government needs to come up with a support mechanism for encouraging more domestic manufacture.
Vision for moving from imports to exports, India a global manufacturing hub for medical devices
India with its huge healthcare sector and a huge pool of scientists and engineers, has the potential to become a global manufacturing and R&D hub of medical devices. Some local manufacturers like Transasia Bio-Medicals are already exporting ‘Developed in India’ and ‘Made in India’ sophisticated diagnostic equipment to over 100 countries. With a level playing field, local manufacturers like Transasia can become major global manufacturers providing a wide variety of affordable medical devices to the whole world.
Creating the future of diagnostics
Diagnostics technology is moving fast in the direction of full automation with the help of latest developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). From developing accurate and efficient diagnostic solutions to accommodating technological interventions, our forward-thinking R&D teams are already working on developing newer and simpler ways for blood analysis and diagnosis.
Further, as the demand for healthcare continues to grow exponentially, so will the volume of laboratory testing. But with limited availability of qualified and trained pathologists, it has become essential to develop technologies which assist them in faster diagnosis. Manufacturers are pioneering the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in new products and concepts intended to make laboratory diagnostics easy to use, thereby increasing their reach and ensuring quality of diagnosis. With the help of these technologies, many diagnostic tests which used to take hours of a pathologist’s time can now be done in minutes. Nowadays it is common to find pathology labs doing over a million tests a day which was impossible just a few years ago. And now most of these tests cost one tenth of what it used to cost earlier. This is technology benefiting humanity.
While the technology development is progressing very rapidly, in the coming years, the main challenge for manufacturers in developing countries like India would be to make such technologies affordable and accessible so that it can benefit over 800 million people living in Tier 3 and 4 towns and villages of India. Without doing that, it would remain a pipe dream for millions of our people.
(The author is CEO, Transasia-Erba group. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)