10 Dec 2012
Preventive Health Checks In City Report Robust Growth
A commercial playing on radio over the last few weeks makes an enticing offer – a limited period discount on ultrasounds at a leading diagnostic centre. Another genetic test firm in Pune has taken its test kit out of its laboratory and into gymnasiums promising people the right exercise–diet routine based on their genetic makeup.
‘Prevention is better than cure’ is clearly no longer a proverbial piece of advice. It has unleashed itself into a fast growing industry with a growth rate of a frenetic 40%, reflected in the rash of not just laboratories but also wellness centres that have started to spring in Pune.
On offer are not just the plain vanilla packages of blood tests and lipid profiles but a range of services, including tests for each body organ, well almost, or customised tests for each family member. There is a laundry list of tests, packages and screenings (see box) including ones for testing vitamin deficiencies or intolerance to certain foods, and also pre–marital tests such as for STDs and thalassemia.
Not prescription–dependent, the popularity of these tests is rooted in personal health concerns. Besides, the industry is tapping into the same segment of consumers that retail giants target – the growing upper middle class and the many corporate tie–ups each one of them is into, particularly with the IT, auto and banking firms. Pre–employment health checks, more people opting for health insurance covers, tax benefit on expenses made on preventive health checks announced in the 2012–13 budget are among the factors the industry is attributing its growth to. As per estimates, the Indian diagnostics and lab test services is expected to touch Rs 159.89 billion by FY 2013.
The growth in the sector has been phenomenal. "When we started, the concept of prevention was not being talked about much. Initially we had basic packages but over a period of time we have been offering advanced packages, which include four packages catering to different age groups," says Amol Naikwadi, joint managing director, Indus Health Plus, an over a decade–old facility and one of the first to have focused largely on preventive health. The facility has reported a 30% year–on–year growth in the last three years.
Diagnostics offer a simple, albeit predictable logic for the growth story. "Given the kind of lifestyles of people, about 20% of the Indian population has chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease or diabetes. By 2020, this number would be more than double," says Sanjeev Vashishta, CEO of SRL Diagnostics. He points out that SRL is currently generating 10% of its total business from preventive healthcare. It has grown from 20 labs in 2006 to 242 now nationally, of which 20 are exclusive wellness centres.
"Routine body checks and health checks have been around but now there are premarital tests, pre–employment tests and those for chronic diseases, kidney stones among others," says Ajit Golwilkar, owner of Golwilkar Metropolis Health Services. He notes that if 20 years ago just about 5% of the total business came from preventive, the figure has gone up considerably now.
The cost of preventive checks ranges from Rs 600 for basic tests to up to Rs 20,000 or more depending on the nature of the test.
It’s a business opportunity that many have sensed. Among the countless number of players in Pune trying to get a toehold on the preventive healthcare bandwagon are at least half a dozen big competitors, including major hospitals that are currently fine–tuning their services to suit the growing number of health–conscious citizens. Leading hospitals point out how they have been trying to ensure they don’t lose any samples (for tests) and are thus not only beefing up their internal laboratories but also trying to ensure that people who like to go for preventive checks visit their hospitals as against a diagnostic centre.
The Apollo Hospitals has launched a blitzkrieg of Apollo clinics. "We have three in Pune and plan to have six totally," says Sudhir Diggikar, CEO, Apollo Health and Lifestyle Ltd. He said there are 92 Apollo clinics so far in India and by year–end the group is planning to touch the 100 mark. "These are out–patient clinics but equipped with labs. So, patients find everything under one roof. It is extremely successful," says Diggikar. The Apollo clinic concept comprises specialist consultation, diagnostics, preventive health checks and 24–hour pharmacy, all under one roof, apart from offering a range of services such as counselling on various lifestyle issues.
The soon–to–be–opened Columbia Asia in Kharadi has interwoven preventive into its healthcare service spectrum. "We are focused on preventive across (our facilities in) India. We have preventive focus in each specialty. Our preventive cardiology, for instance, is a big programme developed with therapeutic," says Sunil Rao, general manager, Columbia Asia, Pune. He further said that the hospital would be engaging in community related programmes and holding screenings, apart from tying up with corporates to conduct awareness/educative sessions with their employees.
Taking the ‘prevention is better than cure’ logic to another level is Acton Biotech that has taken its genetic tests to gymnasiums and ropes in personal trainers to explain the test’s benefit to their clients. "This is a non–invasive genetic test which involves testing the sputum. We then test the samples in our laboratory and, based on the result, tell personality traits to people and why they would get certain diseases," says Sandeep Saxena, founder and CEO Acton Biotech.
And the hugely competitive preventive healthcare sector is suddenly distinctly similar to malls offering discounts and offers. Customer relationship cells have been set up to not only make introductory calls but later reminder calls for health checks people have gone for in the past, offering handsome discounts to those riding high on their loyalty index.THE GROWTH OF WELLNESS
- Apollo Health and Lifestyle Ltd Hospitals has set up three Apollo clinics in Pune and will add three more. Focus on OP and preventive healthcare
- SRL has grown from 20 labs in 2006 to 242 now nationally, of which 20 are exclusive wellness centres, including one in Pune
- The soon–to–be–opened Columbia Asia in Kharadi has interwoven preventive into its healthcare service spectrum
- Indus Health Plus, focused only on preventive healthcare, has recorded a 30% year on year growth in the last three years
- The Mom & Dad package, which includes various tests for the couple after the birth of a child
- New born screening – testing for some 50–odd metabolic disorders
- Pre–marital haemograms and sickle cell and thalassemia test
- Tumour markers for all types of cancers
- Bone density tests
- Pap smear for cervical cancer
- Vitamin B 12 and Vitamin D deficiency test
- Folic acid test
- Iron deficiency test
- ECG, stress test, 2D echo
The preventive healthcare industry could be booming but health activists are not impressed. They point out how in developed nations, a prescription is need to buy even basic drugs and say that it should be applied at least for certain important tests in India.
"Healthcare is not about buying soaps or biscuits. It is a special kind of social good," says Abhay Shukla, co–convenor, Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan, pointing out that a consumer in the case of healthcare may not be the best person to decide what he or she needs in terms of a test.
"We have a growing upper middle class with large disposable income and all industry sectors are tapping into it," Shukla says, adding that laboratory tests should be performed only when rationally prescribed.
He says the country is sorely missing a protocol for tests or healthcare in general. "This has to be done in a balanced way. If these tests are essential, then they should be offered to all. Let the scientific community decide the screenings that should be done on people," says Shukla, adding there should be guidelines for people to know which tests they need.