Diagnostic labs fleecing individual customers
Sushmi Dey| TNN | Updated: May 12, 2017, 07.00 AM IST
NEW DELHI: Diagnostic laboratories may be charging you more than 3-4 times over for tests as compared to the rates they charge major hospital chains with no assurance of quality in the absence of any regulation. The data accessed by TOI shows instances where individual consumers are charged over 300% more for a particular test that is provided to a partner lab or hospital at a huge discount. For instance, a thyroid test may cost Rs 800 to an individual, but the same is being offered to associate labs for just Rs 185. Similarly, an MRI can cost anything between Rs 1,000 and Rs 8,000 depending on the lab and its location.
Bigger players in the diagnostic industry often operate in two different domains — retail and institutional segment. While in retail, laboratories directly deal with patients based on charges fixed by them for particular tests, they offer highly discounted charges to institutions like hospitals and other laboratories.
A comparison of the rate list of leading diagnostic chains, reviewed by TOI, shows charges offered to individual patients for particular tests are costlier by 100-350% than those offered to institutions. Well-known laboratories explain the price disparity as a function of volume and service quality. But for individual patients, it is a difficult to evaluate the quality vis-a-vis the charges for a test.
“Pricing depends on various factors such as cost structures, network of labs, quality standards, logistics, supply chain etc. The price difference between retail and institutional business is mainly because of volumes,” says Om Manchanda, CEO, Dr Lal PathLabs.
“There are price benchmarks and standards followed in case of tests related to infectious diseases. Given the fact that expertise is the key in case of these diseases, certain tests can be conducted only at specific laboratories. The cost may differ partly due to this reason,” says Ameera Shah, managing director and CEO Metropolis Healthcare
Experts point out there is no specific law regulating the industry — neither for pricing nor quality. While some big players depend on voluntary accreditation from organisations like National Accreditation Board for Testing(NABL) and Calibration Laboratories and the College of American Pathologists (CAP) for quality, the smaller ones operate more like ‘mom-and-pop’ shops in the absence of regulatory norms. Estimates show merely 1% of the total diagnostic laboratories are accredited.
“We are aware about such discrepancies and therefore, there are provisions built in under the Clinical Establishment Act which also makes it mandatory for such clinical establishments to disclose pricing so that the consumer can at least make an informed choice. But states will have to ultimately adopt this Act. “We have been regularly writing to states to adopt and implement it,” a senior health ministry official said.