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Diagnostics industry needs autonomous body to regulate quality of services

There should be increased focus on shifting mindsets of citizens from curative to preventive healthcare, says Arica Diagnostic

Biplab Sengupta, Managing Director, Arica Diagnostics Private Limited
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Biplab Sengupta, Managing Director, Arica Diagnostics Private Limited

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Diagnosis is the first step to disease management, as without accurate identification there is no possibility for accurate treatment. India is a land full of opportunities for players in the diagnostic services industry. The country has become one of the major destinations for various diagnostic services. With the rapid growth of the Indian economy in recent times and the changing demography and socio-economic mix of the Indian population, there has been an immense change to the healthcare requirements in the country. Diagnostics is a whopping Rs 75,000-crore market already, inching towards the Rs 86,000-crore mark in the post pandemic period. Speaking to Bizz Buzz, Biplab Sengupta, Managing Director, Arica Diagnostics Private Limited, shares his thoughts on how this industry should move to the next level

We are talking to a number of existing hospitals and healthcare centres, who have labs but do not have the expertise. If we get their infrastructure, we can possibly upgrade that and offer our expertise and run it in the best possible manner

With enough investment, the diagnostics sector can drive early diagnosis that is known to help in improving chances of curing the condition or preventing it all together and thereby eliminating the need for tertiary treatment

How big is the overall diagnostic market in India at present and how is it growing?

The diagnostic market in India is estimated to be nearly Rs 75,000 crore divided into two parts -- private and government. Out of this, pathology and radiology in the private sector is about Rs 45,000 crore and the government sector is for about Rs 28,000 crore. Mind you that as high as 80 per cent of Indian diagnostics is in the unorganised sector and if we look at the market share Tier-wise then Tier-I city has 40-50 per cent share and the remaining comes from Tier-II and Tier-III cities. According to the new research report "Indian Diagnostic Services Market Outlook 2020," the diagnostic services market is expected to continue growing at 27.5 per cent for the next five years. This growth is likely to be driven by improving healthcare facilities, medical diagnostic and pathological laboratories, private-public projects and the health insurance sector. Moreover, with the rise in health consciousness in the society and the rising burden of chronic diseases, this market will swell to nearly Rs 86,000 crore in revenues over the next one to two years.

How do you see the mushrooming of the diagnostic centres across the country, particularly in the wake of the pandemic? What needs to be done to address the issue?

There is this Clinical Establishment Act, which has been adopted by only 4-5 States. Everybody and anybody can open a diagnostics centre. There is no quality kind of regulation. There have been some accreditations like NABL. They are voluntary in nature and not regulatory or mandatory. The government has no actual regulation to control on what kind of reports to be delivered. They tried it through CEA but there are lots of challenges in that and it has not been adopted by the States. The government is looking very seriously into this to make sure that reports are driven quality, trying to impose rules and regulations. But imposing the cost etc is not easy as balancing out for them in private players is difficult as cost in Delhi and remote area is different. The government has enacted the Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2018, towards standardising and regulating the education and services by allied and healthcare professionals. However, the diagnostics industry that is critical to tackling rising NCDs still needs policy intervention towards standardisation and regulation of services provided to ensure quality and efficacy. While we appreciate the government's efforts so far, estimates indicate about one per cent of all diagnostic labs have some kind of accreditation. The industry is in dire need of an autonomous body that regulates the quality of services provided by the sector and sets the rules as the industry evolves and faces newer and more complicated challenges.

What are your plans with Arica Diagnostic?

Arica Diagnostic, started by Dr Pradip Mitra, former Director at SSKM Hospital and a well-known name in the public healthcare space, is already a trusted name in the field of diagnostics. I have also been into healthcare space for close to four decades now. I realised that in any modern healthcare system, laboratory diagnostics play a crucial role for effective functioning of the overall care delivery system. Diagnosis is the first step to disease management, as without accurate identification there is no possibility for accurate treatment. So when we (I and Bijoy Das) took over Arica, we thought of putting in place a chain of most modern diagnostic centres at affordable costs. We will have our centres (either company-owned or franchisee) across all districts in West Bengal and then eventually we will move to other eastern and north-eastern States. We will have a state-of-the-art central laboratory in Kolkata.

We are also teaming up with multinational diagnostic chain - Nueberg Diagnostic, who has the best-in-class laboratories from across India, UAE and South Africa that have united under the banner of Neuberg Diagnostics to bring the latest technology and techniques within the reach of developing countries. Utilising their combined strengths, the Neuberg alliance brings capabilities to perform over 5,000 varieties of pathological investigations and will promote prevention and early diagnosis, focused wellness programmes and structured preventive care facilities. We will have pathology, histopathology and radiology -- all under one roof. We will only hire DMLT (Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology) at our various collection centres and they will work under strict supervision so as to ensure quality and minimum error margin. We will also send reports directly to the doctors. Then we will keep sending reminders and alerts to patients on any variations in reports and parameters from time to time.

You are in talks with a number of hospitals, healthcare centres, I believe!

Yes. We are talking to a number of existing hospitals and healthcare centres, who have labs but do not have the expertise. If we get their infrastructure, we can possibly upgrade that and offer our expertise and run it in the best possible manner. I think that's the way forward to meet the growing quality diagnostic needs.

Is the industry looking at any policy-level or other support from the government at this point in time?

I would say, while the government is in the middle of overhauling the current healthcare system through schemes like Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) and Mission Indradhanush, there needs to be an increased focus on shifting the mindsets of citizens from curative to preventive healthcare. As diagnostics is the first step towards diagnosis and treatment choice, the industry needs to be given adequate impetus and consequently become the focal point of healthcare in India. With enough investment, the diagnostics sector can drive early diagnosis that is known to help in improving chances of curing the condition or preventing it all together and thereby eliminating the need for tertiary treatment.

Ritwik Mukherjee
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