The Indian healthcare industry currently faces a problem pertaining to the access of diagnostic healthcare in rural India. There is a lack of well-functioning, licensed laboratory services; the ones present are marred with shortages of pathologists, technicians, biochemists, and other staff. Rural India has one-fourth the doctors and diagnostic facilities as compared to urban areas affecting the chronically ill, who require complex and expensive long-term monitoring and treatment strategies. Diagnostic testing is important as the results are considered for almost 60–70 percent of medical treatments in India. India has about 600,000 where 70 percent of its population lives, yet out of the approx 100,000 diagnostic laboratories in India, majority cater to metros and tier I cities. As per a survey, there are only around eight diagnostic labs per 100,000 people in India and diagnostic facilities have a very low reach in small towns and villages.
Challenges for diagnostics in rural India
Attracting and retaining trained medical professionals in diagnostic facilities is a major challenge for rural public health facilities. Laboratory setups of the health center are not well-equipped to support the accurate investigations for diagnosis; people have to go to cities for better diagnostic services. A robust diagnostic facility in rural India will help prevent the spread of diseases and reduce the mortality rates. However, the current supply of conventionally delivered diagnostic services is struggling to keep up with the increasing demand of healthcare in rural India. Ensuring that all citizens have access to quality diagnostics must be a fundamental responsibility and an essential economic function for any government. Diagnostic facilities must be accessible, affordable, and responsive, both to the constantly changing medical and clinical needs of patients as well as to the broader demographic, social, and cultural dynamics. Providing new means of affordable access to diagnostics, however, is no small task. There are certain factors that need to be addressed.
Affordability. Services of specialists must be accessible and affordable. Indians have a high willingness to pay for quality healthcare diagnostics that are reasonably affordable. There is growing healthcare consumer awareness in India, so demand for affordable and accessible care will continue to grow.
Certified diagnostics. Trustworthiness of services provider is crucial. Centuries’ of dependency on quacks prevent Indians from trusting institutional care and scientific diagnostic services. It is of importance to promote convenient access to certified, well-regulated and audited lab services in rural areas.
Allocations for regulation. Quality diagnostics should reach people through program verticals, budgetary allocations to diagnostics. Currently, the diagnostics industry comprises largely of unregulated players and the onus of accuracy, quality, or reliability of a test reports lies with a lab. Enacting regulation can empower national bodies like NABL to play a bigger role.
Tax relaxations and subsidies. Government incentives such as tax relief and subsidies are limited. Tax exemptions for preventive diagnostic tests below `5000 have a positive impact on the demand side of the diagnostic market; however, such interventions are required on the supply side to reduce the costs of delivering diagnostic tests. The taxes levied on chemicals and technology increase the test costs. Lowering these costs will help diagnostic facilities to penetrate better.
Public–private partnerships. Government collaboration with private players to bring quality diagnostics to towns and rural areas can boost healthcare innovation. Presently, western countries conduct 90 percent of R&D in diagnostics and we need to adapt it to create local solutions.
There is an urgent need for an initiative by the government, bringing the stakeholders such as healthcare providers, public and private diagnostic, local administration, and people together so that a robust diagnostic system can be implemented across India.