Dr Shimi Pahuja
Consultant Pathologist and Lab Head,
Metropolis Healthcare Limited.

Healthcare Diagnostics – Future Insights

Diagnostics is the first step to disease management, and thus the foundation of a successful healthcare system. It plays the crucial role in detection, prevention, treatment, and successful management of health conditions. The industry has gone through tremendous transformations in the last 2–3 decades. In the current scenario, about 60–70 percent of clinical decisions are supported by diagnostics. Laboratory medicine, tissue pathology, and imaging are the major contributors. Rapidly emerging technologies play a pivotal role in democratizing healthcare services. As we enter the era of precision medicine, pharmacogenetics, artificial intelligence, and wearables, the importance of diagnostics in medicine will continue to grow. Molecular diagnostics that includes study of gene function, structure, and regulation is also rapidly evolving. Heightened physician awareness to better clinical outcomes, health consciousness among individuals, and increasing patient requirement to avail of high-quality care, have made it vital for providers to deliver targeted therapy.

Emerging technology. Diagnostic tests will continue to become less invasive and more targeted. Regular blood test to analyze tiny fragments of DNA to detect the presence of cancer cells will replace invasive and painful procedures. Genetic-testing technology will help understand health risks and enable physicians to select personalized treatment, preventing patients from having unnecessary treatments. Advancements in monitoring devices, like patient-wearable devices, smart phones, home test devices, and wireless pacemaker-like devices, will enable patients to be monitored continuously. The application of artificial intelligence to read scans and images will reduce errors and accelerate diagnosis. It will make diagnostics cheaper, faster, and more accessible. Artificial intelligence is based on algorithms, which can draw conclusions in a fraction of a second, and can be reproduced all over the world at same quality and low price.

Precision medicine and molecular diagnostics. Molecular diagnostics tests detect and measure the presence of genetic material or proteins associated with a specific disease. This has revolutionized the healthcare industry, pushing healthcare environment toward personalized medicine. These tests are being increasingly used in risk assessment to complement traditional risk factors, screening to identify disease early, definitive diagnosis in cancers, staging and prognosis, therapy selection, and monitoring for treatment efficacy. Advancements in molecular technology have focused on ease of use, producing tests that can be performed in less specialized laboratories and rapid turn-around. Continuous innovation in technology is increasing performance of molecular diagnostics facilitating the practice of precision medicine.

Major growth drivers. The global diagnostic imaging market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.8 percent while the in-vitro diagnostic market is growing at a CAGR of 4.6 percent during the period 2018–2023. In India, diagnostic market is likely to maintain growth at 27.5 percent for the next 5 years. Aging population, rising burden of chronic diseases like diabetes and infectious diseases, are the major factors driving the Indian diagnostic market. The rise in health consciousness and awareness in the society, increasing demands of physicians and other stakeholders, penetration of medical insurance companies, laboratories looking for ways to efficiently use existing resources, and health systems adjusting their delivery models to reduce healthcare costs, are other factors increasing the demand.

Challenges. While there is a huge potential and current customer base, there are a multitude of challenges. Diagnostics is still under-valued and under-utilized. It corresponds to just 2–3 percent of all healthcare spending but influences 60–70 percent of medical decisions. High price of medical diagnostics equipment, inadequate skilled healthcare professionals, inadequate investments made by the government in diagnostics, lack of entry barriers, no set standards and regulations to ensure quality standards, inability to provide constant value and improving the valuation of the business are reasons why it has become difficult to consolidate the market. The diagnostics industry needs to tackle a lot of aspects, such as water issues, lack of robust technical infrastructure, and lack of connectivity to improve their reach and expand their business to underserved areas. 

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