Collaboration, not competition, will define future of diagnostics industry

By Sam Collins
12:00 AM
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The diagnostics industry will increasingly be shaped by the relationship between the growing near patient testing (NPT) sector and a clinical laboratory system adapting to 21st Century demands.

That was the conclusion of an expert panel of industry, research and academic leaders at Cambridge Consultants' fourth annual diagnostics workshop.

A new report, entitled The Future Of Diagnostics: Are Labs Vital? and based on the findings of the expert panel, highlights a shift in focus by strategic planners of healthcare delivery - moving the industry away from treatment and towards prevention.

In this new climate, NPT may well find a role in wellness monitoring, with self-tests removing some of the burden from clinical laboratories and Point of Care Testing.

At the same time, tests in the clinical laboratory will direct clinicians to prescribe the best treatment, while subsequent condition monitoring with NPTs may be used to confirm the progress of the recovering patient.

The panel was clear that the two services catered for largely different needs, and that as they evolved, their relationship would follow a collaborative model, rather than a directly competitive one.

Over time, further niches for NPT will be identified, unblocking bottlenecks in traditional practice and lightening the load for clinical laboratories further.

"The anticipated boom in NPT has been hindered by a number of real-world barriers ranging from design issues to national health policies," said Simon Burnell, head of diagnostics at Cambridge Consultants.

"Despite these issues, near patient testing is a key trend in the industry. The challenge for the diagnostics industry will be to find the balancing point between tests that can be done effectively and confidently in the home and those that will continue to require less commercially viable processes."

The report also points to the changes laboratories are undergoing, as scientific tools and techniques continue to advance and the drive for greater throughput and efficiency continues unabated.

These changes, the panel suggested, could lead to the establishment of ultra-high throughput, massively automated "super-laboratories" designed to handle well-established routine tests, leaving newer and more complex tests to continue to be handled by highly-skilled specialists.

"As laboratories grow to incorporate more and more features, so there will need to be increasing strategic synergy between the laboratories and NPT in order to meet the high standards expected of 21st century healthcare," Dr Burnell said.

"In a complex marketplace such as the diagnostics industry, these are significant challenges to be met. However, if both sides of the equation continue to play to their own respective strengths, then there can be huge benefits for the industry."

The report highlights some other issues and challenges facing the diagnostics industry as NPT and clinical laboratories continue to evolve:

 

  • Geographical differences in uptake of NPT technology. For example, the growth of NPT is much higher in Poland and other "New Europe" states than in countries with a well established and mature laboratory system such as France, Germany and the UK;
  • Some regional differences will always exist in healthcare provision stemming from variations in access to technology and diversity in politics and market forces;
  • NPT offers developing countries the potential to leapfrog and make a rapid transition to 21st Century healthcare;
  • The most promising niches for NPT products are where there are clear benefits: saving consumer time, saving health systems money, maintaining or improving clinical outcomes;
  • NPT must establish itself as an economical, practical and proven alternative;
  • Improved connectivity and data management systems will allow both the clinical laboratory and NPT products to feed data seamlessly into the increasingly crucial electronic patient record.