Does lower priced blood test means unreliable results?

Since Thyrocare disrupted the market, most of us have been asking this question,

Our doctors have warned us that blood tests can not be done at such low costs, there must be quality compromises and hence their results can not be relied upon.

We sometimes listen to them and sometimes not.

The confusion continues.

We therefore thought to search and try seek answers to some key points related to the subject. Checkout if this helps.

Is such wide variation in pricing unique to India?

If it was, one could have concluded that low cost providers are managing the system and cutting corners in India, which theoretically is not possible in the developed world.

The fact is – variations are actually bigger in the developed world. Checkout below (source).

Within the same cities as well as across cities there is a huge price variation for the same test.

Is our government aware about such price disparity and has associated low cost with questionable quality?

Govt is aware about the price disparity and Economic Survey of 2018 had actually highlighted the need for standardising the rates. (Source)

Though govt is aware about wide disparity in the rates, it has nowhere associated lower rates directly with the poor quality.

Why do rates differ so much?

It can be due to the commercial reasons.

  • Operating costs comprise of the fixed (rent, depreciation, corporate overheads), semi-variable (processing staff salaries) and variable (reagents, supplies etc).
    • These costs vary across set-ups. Hospitals will have a very different cost structure vs a pure diagnostic set-up. Likewise unorganised stand alone entity will have a very different cost structure vs a organised chain.
  • As with many other businesses, start-ups may operate at losses in the initial years in the hope of winning customer loyalty.

What about the quality of results? Is it actually standardised and there is no reason to worry?

It seems machines, processes and base materials are mostly standardised.

Yes, there are different brands of machines and raw materials that different set-ups maybe using. Their parameters, ranges etc may not be strictly comparable with each other. However, that doesn’t mean that one is superior over the other.

What it only suggests is that one should stick to the same lab and should not keep jumping. This is to ensure a proper comparison over period.

One factor however that can impact the quality of the results – collection and it’s delivery to the processing equipment. This is where hospitals clearly score over the home collections.

As a customer, we should be very observant about hygiene of the collection person, his storage protocols, lab’s time to results etc.

But I have noticed that results from established labs VS low cost labs differ. Why?

Actually the results may differ even if one does the same testing again from the same established lab.

Here is a nice related article. Read it and you may agree that it is not as concerning a factor as it’s normally made out to be; and it has little to do with the quality.

So what’s the conclusion? Can I save money and go with the low cost testing?

Broadly Yes. Subject to the following –

  1. It’s a reputed lab or from a reputed business house. E.g., Tata 1mg, Thyrocare, Metropolis.
  2. The lab is NABH certified and hence meets the regulatory quality control and processing standards.
  3. Don’t every time look for the cheapest based on the available offers. Otherwise you will keep jumping and results of different labs may not be strictly comparable.
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