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The future of the diagnostics industry, as I see it

I have been part of the diagnostics industry for over 27 years. COVID has put this industry in the limelight like never before. RT-PCR have become the 5 most common alphabets on the planet.

I believe, diagnostics has finally found its place under sun, at an equal footing with the other modalities of healthcare. The role of testing has been central in the pandemic. Moving ahead, diagnostics will play a significant role in making a paradigm shift in the way healthcare will be consumed.

One of the biggest changes is the level of awareness about our individual health. The understanding of co-morbidities and how they impact health outcomes; factors affecting our immunity and vulnerability to disease; knowledge about risk factors to our health; impact of age on our health; role of physical activity and rest/sleep in our overall wellbeing; the impact diet plays in our life and wellbeing; the role of medication and vaccinations on our health. These inputs will definitely influence the consumer behavior toward healthcare.

All of this dovetails into the application of various diagnostic modalities and how they can be used across the entire health continuum of an individual; from helping prevent, to screening for disease, to diagnosis and risk stratification, to influencing the line of treatment, to assessing impact of therapy, to monitoring long-term prognosis. The role of diagnostics is wide and impacts health outcomes across this entire spectrum.

The onus will shift to the healthcare service providers to move along these avenues of consumerism.

In a very scattered and fragmented diagnostics market, the change in consumer habits will see the development of larger brands dominating the market and a chance for consolidation of the industry. Ease of access and uniform quality standards (via accreditation) will become the baseline of customer experience.

The impact of hygiene and safety will push consumption of healthcare at home. Whatever tests can be done at home, accessed via digital platforms, will be preferred. Contactless will be a choice, as far as possible in healthcare and diagnostics. Connected and integrated point of care testing and wearables will see a wider acceptance in times to come, impacted by the wide of pulse oximeters, glucometers and digital BP devices at home. Reprioritizing long-term healthcare into the home setting is the most cost-effective and patient-preferred way to address the future healthcare needs, especially of our aging population.

Due to this, lab diagnostics will be forced to move up the curve. Use of molecular and genomic testing, to diagnose disease earlier, at a stage where it can be prevented or reversed will be the norm. The use of data to obtain medical insights, measure disease prevalence across geographies and personalizing the engagement with consumers will allow a higher level of compliance, ensuring better outcomes. Informed decision making by the healthcare industry riding on the enormity of diagnostic data coupled with artificial intelligence will be the paradigm shift in healthcare.

The biggest opportunity for the diagnostic industry is to impact health indices and not just economic indices. Preventing antibiotic drug resistance, impacting mortality rates, eliminating preventable cancers, reducing preventable genetic disorders, preventing complications from chronic disorders by better monitoring; how can the diagnostics industry unburden healthcare? India sees a huge burden on its healthcare ecosystem; the opportunity is to unburden healthcare, by diagnosing early and more accurately, focus more on preventing rather than treating, managing more in the OPD where possible, so that only those cases that genuinely need IPD care get the desired attention in a timely and accurate manner.

The overall attractiveness of the diagnostics industry will see better talent acquisition across all medical and non-medical functions. Deployment of technology will remain essential, for ease of doing business. An efficient supply chain will provide the dependability and reliability in operations while good people practices and financial governance will provide the stability and sustainability.

The entire focus of laboratory medicine and healthcare is to improve the clinical outcomes in a better way. Lab medicine has to move from current sample centric to a patient centric approach, sample quality to patient outcomes, data to useful information, manual to adapting artificial intelligence as information specialists and from an isolated to an integrated approach.

Overall, I believe, this is the decade of healthcare and diagnostics will be central to the way healthcare will evolve in the next 10 years.