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Price Caps On Medical Devices Help Neither Patients Nor Doctors

20/09/2016 6:36 PM IST | Updated 22/09/2016 8:28 AM IST
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Ajay Verma / Reuters

India has benefited from the availability of new path-breaking medical devices in the last decade as a result of increased research and innovation in the med-tech sector. Today, we have access to the most sophisticated life-saving devices which help doctors to successfully carry out complicated procedures.

With the growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in India, providing access to affordable but quality healthcare to the public is the need of the hour. Medical devices play a critical role in controlling NCDs. For instance, coronary stents have halved the number of patients dying from heart attacks and implantable cardiac defibrillators have raised the chances of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest from 5% to 98%.

Price capping [of stents] will increase the entry of inferior quality, outdated products in the market, resulting in substandard care to patients.

Today, manufacturers continue to innovate and bring newer, more efficient technology to the benefit of humanity. By applying science, medicine continues to evolve and help doctors provide treatments of the highest quality. In this backdrop, the inclusion of stents in the national list of essential medicines (NLEM) and the subsequent price capping, in my view, is a well intentioned step as long as it meets the three fundamental requirements of access to innovation, quality and patient safety. Patient outcomes should be at the centre of all policy decisions and while price and accessibility are important considerations, any mechanism enforced to improve these should not hamper access to innovative and high-quality medical devices.

Arbitrary price restriction will discourage innovators and manufacturers from coming up with newer generations of stents, thus limiting the choice of doctors and patients alike. We need to come up with policies which empower the patient and doctor to make informed choices, rather than take away options.

It will give me immense happiness if the government takes steps that, apart from reducing prices, allow the delivery of quality healthcare to patients. What needs to be understood is that we do not need access to any stent, but access to the best quality stent. Patient choice and clinical outcomes will be negatively impacted if stents are brought under the ambit of a pharmaceutical-style pricing control regimen. Such price capping will increase the entry of inferior quality, outdated products in the market, resulting in substandard care to patients. All policy decisions should be driven by patients' need for quality and safety. Affordability at the cost of patient access to quality is not desirable in the long-term interest of the patient.

India is home to the best of cardiologists and surgeons who possess the right training, skills and expertise to optimally use lifesaving devices. Price capping in these areas will limit the doctor's evolvement and have a negative impact on patient outcomes. The journey of the Indian medical fraternity towards global recognition might slow down. Hence, it is important to set priorities right.

The focus of the government should be on making the best quality treatment available to patients.

Abysmal infrastructure and manpower constraints characterize the healthcare system in India. Being a rapidly growing economy, it is essential for India to raise its public healthcare expenditure to ensure that no citizen is denied quality treatment. Rather than having a singular approach to price capping of medical devices, the government should develop a unique agenda to regulate the med-tech sector. The focus of the government should be on making the best quality treatment available to patients.

The government should aim at improving access with a focus on quality and efficacy of medical devices. While making such policy decisions, the government should adopt a consultative approach and involve all the stakeholders -- Indian researchers, clinicians, local and global device manufacturers -- to ensure best results and a progressive way forward.

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