Dr Kunal Sharma
Section Head (Pathology) and Consultant Oncopathologist,
SRL Reference Laboratory

Changing Paradigm Of Healthcare Sector In India

Healthcare in India, happens to be one of the industries with maximum focus not just due to the nature of the product i.e. health and well being, but also due to being one of the largest sectors in terms of jobs and revenue. Indian healthcare market is set to grow by 17 percent CAGR in the current financial year vis a vis the 5 percent CAGR rise in global healthcare expenditure. It is expected to touch USD 372 billion by 2022.

While India shares almost 20 percent of the global disease burden, it barely registers 6 percent of global hospital beds. We rank extremely poor (145 in 195 countries) in both quality and accessibility of healthcare.

The importance and changing perspectives toward healthcare is reflected from the budgetary allocation of Rs 69000 crore for the current financial year, up by nearly 10 percent from last year. Under the current allocation, the Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (AB- PMJAY) is set to get an infusion of Rs. 6400 crore with special focus on starting more hospitals in Tier II and III cities via the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) route.

We, at SRL aim to provide quality diagnostic facilities at the cheapest rates to reach even the far flung, inaccessible areas of our country through the widest network of primary and franchisee labs, collection centres and a robust home collection.

We have been giving a lot of attention to growing focus on research and use of technology. Advent of telemedicine, teleradiology, digital pathology and Artificial Intelligence has changed the face of disease management. This has resulted in outreach of specialization to far off clinics and individual laboratories. At SRL, we have a special focus on both research and technology. Our digital pathology program was launched in association with Microsoft. It automatically enables us to not only create biological database for education and research but empowers us to analyse disease trends, in addition to looking at algorithms to diagnose faster and with higher precision.

The average expenditure in diagnostic industry on new equipments range from 5 to 40 percent depending upon the nature of the organisation. While a lot of machines are procured on reagents rental basis in laboratories with high volume of cases, expenditure on CapEx for new machines is much higher in new specialised PE funded start-ups.

Private players still lead the way, amounting to almost 75 percent of the country’s total health expenditure. There is a massive upsurge of single speciality hospitals especially for cancer and infertility like HCG, Milann, Cytecare, Ovum etc.

To improve the quality of healthcare delivery, in addition to the overall expenditure on health, the government needs to look at improving facilities and vocational environment for healthcare professionals especially in the rural areas. Even today, more than 60 percent of primary health centres do not have an operation theatre, while nearly 30 percent lack a proper labour room. Community health centres were short of more than 80 percent specialist doctors. The investment in healthcare should rise much more than the expected target of 2.5 percent of the GDP by 2025. At present we spend lesser than Nepal and Sri Lanka.

There exists a massive scope for improvement in our vision and policies. Even today, 76 percent of Indians do not have health insurance. Insurance in the diagnostics sector is still in a nascent stage, which needs attention, especially due to diseases like cancer and metabolic disorders, where genetic and molecular tests are near mandatory to assess specific mutations, prognosis and correct treatment. We have to be prepared to cater to our large population base and also for international patients, given our stand as one of the most preferred locations for medical tourism today. While we are conspicuously cost effective as compared to the West, the quality of healthcare at large needs to be addressed.  The primary focus should be on increasing our expenditure on healthcare in public sector and PPP partnerships along with strengthening health insurance. 

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