The healthcare industry in India has been put under extreme stress in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The diagnostics sector, in particular, witnessed latency due to a high number of tests required on a daily basis, compared to the pandemic’s undamped speed over two major waves of infections. With the third wave now posited to be underway, diagnostics have become the firewall between successfully handling the pandemic and a comprehensive understanding of the ferocity of the disease. In many ways, the pandemic also challenged consumers into taking charge of their health, learning about their health risks, and actively seeking diagnosis.
While responding to the challenges in our healthcare ecosystem, and the pace of the spread, rapid innovation of tools to increase the speed of diagnosis as well as the timely reach of healthcare on a mass scale, is the need of the hour. The pandemic panic has made way for urgent investments in medical technology and availability of self-operable and near-faultless testing methods. In this regard, diagnostic efforts are increasingly relying on in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) methods as they are time-efficient and scalable in terms of quantity at much more reduced costs, thereby increasing affordability.
IVDs as the first response to the pandemic
IVDs have gained higher prominence during the pandemic due to the minimal infrastructure required for performing tests quickly. As a diagnostic tool to gauge disease conditions through rapid data examination, it does not have any therapeutic effect on the patient, and relays accurate information fairly quicker than traditional testing methods. The explosion in the demand for testing and the uncontained nature of the disease in fact, led to the rise of real time polymerase chain reaction tests (RT-PCR) being recognised as the gold standard for COVID diagnosis.
That said, while the testing capacity of India grew 1000-fold by May last year, the development was saturated in the urban pockets of the country, unable to reach much of the population. The cost of testing has also deterred many to approach the necessary steps in response to COVID-19.
An organized approach to address this, i.e., making fast and accurate testing accessible and affordable, can change the course of healthcare delivery in the country. In fact, some positive steps have already been taken by the Government of India.
Becoming more vigilant
The pandemic has alerted us to be vigilant of any discrepancy in one’s health, investing in as early a detection as possible. Recognizing its importance in the present and the days to come, the Government of India has long acted on plans to promote medical diagnostics through efforts, such as the National Health Mission (NHM), that launched the Free Diagnostics Service Initiative (FDI) in 2015.
The announcement of the Production Linked Incentive Scheme (2.0) this year, aims to enhance India’s manufacturing capabilities by way of increased investment in the IVD sector, championing India in the global market. To put this in perspective, the Indian IVD market is valued at USD 1240 million and moving at a staggering pace with an estimated CAGR of 7.5 percent till 2027.
The inclusion of artificial intelligence and other technologies to automate testing processes, especially mass screenings, can bring about transformative change. In terms of COVID-related illnesses, AI-based antigen tests, smell tests, voice recognition tests, breath tests etc., are likely to be a part of the primary stages of screening. Diagnostics will cover all stages of COVID-19 cycle from detection, partial and/or full, to immunity assessment.
Similarly, in cases of acute illnesses, any tool that can help with the early detection of the disease, will become highly relevant for the healthcare industry as a whole.
Finally, given preventive tools will take a bigger lead, any tool to diagnose our well-being, therefore, will be in higher use in the coming years. Not only will the diagnostic industry conceive a variety of packages that are more user-friendly and scientifically accurate, these will also include packages that set up the patients with a pre-and post-test counselling report, that helps with wellness decisions in their daily lives moving forward.
Preventive care takes precedence
Along with fighting the disease, overall wellness has and will take precedence. A test will launch where the doctor will be able to take decision about a patient when he is tested positive on whether he should be hospitalized or needs to be put on ventilator or does not need hospital at all. No matter the illness, the patient’s outlook will be more oriented toward well-being, and employing diagnostic facilities as a way of monitoring themselves on a regular basis. Healthcare professionals and diagnostics will continue to take support of IVDs to facilitate that.