Diagnostic Industry Has Promising Tech-ade Ahead
Catering to a whopping 140 crore population, the diagnostic industry in India is highly unorganized, constituting a high degree of fragmentation with over 1,00,000 labs. While the vast nature of the market calls for unique, India-centric business models, the healthcare industry becoming more evidence-based and clinical investigations-centric has ensured that the diagnostics organizations have no room for anything less than world-class quality. This has inevitably polished out high-octane competitiveness among large diagnostic chains and startups alike. In the process, there has been a phenomenal rise in the use of technology, which has become an integral part of the sector's efforts to improve customer experience and support clinical decisions. Dr.Om Manchanda, Managing Director, Dr Lal PathLabs, engages in an exclusive conversation with CEO Insights to navigate us through the latest trends in the diagnostic industry, the competitive landscape, and where the industry is headed.
A veterinarian turned MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad, Dr.Om Manchanda, commonly addressed by his first name ‘Om’ is an industry thought leader, is one of the pioneers of Patient Centric approach in diagnostics. Over the past nearly two decades, he transformed the family-run pathology lab, Dr Lal PathLabs, into a professionally run, India's largest pathology lab chain with more than 270 labs and 4700 collection centers across the country.
In conversation with Dr.Om Manchanda, Managing Director, Dr Lal PathLabs.
It has been an unprecedented past three years for the Indian diagnostic industry. How is the industry transforming in the post-pandemic era, and what are the major factors catalyzing the changes?
The diagnostic industry has been riding a huge transformation curve over the past three years. The primary aspect is the patient's behavior. It indeed was a change on the go even before the pandemic, and the turnarounds of the past three years accelerated this change. People are now in pursuit of a much higher level of convenience than before. The convenience can be interpreted as booking the tests online, avoiding the queues, paying online, and getting sample collections done from home. They also seek a good experience through mobile apps. In fact, this is the same tech-driven consumer behavior that you can see in other industries like food delivery and e-Commerce. Additionally, today, patients are more inclined toward taking charge of their own health. We are witnessing many patients opting for a large bouquet of tests, which we call bundle tests or preventive health checkups. That's another change that I see on the patient side.
The emergence of a startup ecosystem in the diagnostics space is another considerable element. A lot of new-age e-commerce companies have come in. In the aftermath, price discovery has become rampant. Now people know the price at which a test is sold at various labs.
Achieving faster turnaround time is a crucial aspect of improving customer experience. Hence, today, technology intervention is virtually in every aspect of the diagnostic cycle - ranging from process automation in the lab to mobile app-based experience.
Another aspect of the change is competition. If the competition in the industry was between many smaller labs, now even the large, organized chains are also in the mix. Previously, we only heard a few names like Dr Lal Path Labs, Metropolis, SRL, and Thyrocare. But today, you can see that many pharma and hospital giants are coming to diagnostics, in addition to other new entrants like Redcliffe, 1Mg, and Heathians. In a nutshell, the bandwidth and intensity of competition in the industry have grown many-fold in the past few years.
The third aspect is the increasing penetration of world-class diagnostics. So far, this industry has been a highly urbanized one. But today, the industry is witnessing penetration to tier-2 and tier-3 cities and even the outskirts. This penetration will act as a catalyst for industry growth. If I were to sum up, the three aspects are the change at the patient level, the increasing competition, and increasing geographical penetration.
Tell us about the emerging technology trends shaping the future of the diagnostics industry in India.
There are two dimensions to how emerging technologies are transforming diagnostics. The first dimension is the service experience. Achieving faster turnaround time is a crucial aspect of improving customer experience. Hence, today, technology intervention is virtually in every aspect of the diagnostic cycle - ranging from process automation in the lab to mobile app-based experience. So, in this dimension, technology makes medical investigations more convenient for people.
The other dimension is a pure medical dimension. Currently, samples are collected, increasingly from homes, and transported to a center with suitable infrastructure. Technology is starting to enable performing several tests at the point of the collection, called point of care testing. The RT PCR Test is a case in point.
On the other hand, the axis of the diagnostics industry is biochemistry. It all boils down to blood chemistry, whether sugar tests, thyroid profile, or hormone tests. But today, technology is slowly moving this axis to genetics, opening the doorway to predictive and preventive healthcare.
What are the key factors driving the growth of the clinical diagnostic landscape in India?
One of the key factors driving the growth is the increasing level of evidence-based medical practice. Doctors today ensure that the patients have undergone the right investigations before even prescribing a medicine. Another factor contributing to the growth is the penetration level of diagnostics into the mindset of people. Diagnostics today goes beyond just confirming a medical condition to help even healthy people take charge of their own healthcare through preventive and predictive health. In the aftermath, people opt for a combination or bundle of tests rather than a single test. In the aftermath, people increasingly opt for diagnostic packages rather than a single test. That sort of penetration is catapulting the industry to the next level. In the aftermath, people increasingly opt for diagnostic packages rather than a single test. Moreover, the geographical penetration and democratization of quality diagnostics are also helping the industry grow.
How would you describe your leadership approach? What are the guidelines or methodologies you follow as a leader?
I follow a certain philosophy toward my leadership approach. As a business leader, you have only two things to do. One is obviously leading your business and making the right decision to help you achieve your financial and social goals. The second thing is the most important thing for a leader: leading people from the front. You need to earn the trust of your people. You might make an extremely demanding boss, but you need to be trustworthy. You may demand work, but you never mean harm, even remotely. In business, people only genuinely accept an honest, trustworthy, transparent, and, most importantly, a fair person as their leader.
I know you love hiking, and it is one of your hobbies as well. Could you tell us about your passion for hiking?
Sure. Hiking is a hobby that I picked up during my college days. My first hike was to Milam Glacier in Uttarakhand. I was only 17 years of age then. I fell in love with the mountains right away. The most recent hike (three months ago) was to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania - at age 57. In truth, building my career almost cost me this passion, but in 2010, I realized life was too short and running out. I need to focus on the aspects of life I really love. Over the years, I have been to the Himalayas, the Alps, and mountain ranges in Slovenia, Austria, Italy, & Scotland. As we speak, I'm planning a hike in Europe later this year. So, that's one hobby. I am also a nature lover, and I travel quite a bit. I am a morning person who gets up at 5:30 AM and loves early morning walks.
Favorite Travel Destination: "New Zealand, especially South Island, and Alaska in that order."
Favorite Movies: "I'm not a great movie buff. But I love Amitabh Bachchan movies."
Favorite Books: "I love books about Management and Leadership. But the one book I first read many years ago and still love to read is The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter Senge. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is another favorite book of mine."