Private labs may lose the permission to conduct H1N1 tests if they continue to overcharge patients, the public health department has said.
On September 1, HT had reported laboratories were overcharging patients for swine flu testing, with people spending anywhere between Rs 5,000 to 8,000 on the procedure.
Taking note of the report, the public health department said they would warn laboratories against overcharging.
“We are in the process of issuing letters to the laboratories to not charge patients exorbitantly. The health department allowed them to offer the test only so that competition could bring down the cost,” said Dr Satish Pawar, director, directorate of health services. “The laboratories that continue overcharging will be banned from offering the test.”
The swine flu scare this year – the state has recorded 634 deaths as a result of H1N1 infection – was sending panicked patients to private laboratories, said doctors.
“The civic-run laboratory at Kasturba Hospital in Chinchpokli charges Rs 2,500 for the test. SRL Diagnostics, a leading private laboratory, charges Rs 5,500 and Metropolis laboratory charges about Rs 5,000 for the procedure.
Haffkine Institute, Parel, offers the test free of cost since 2009.
“We are not looking at profits. We have never charged more than Rs 5,000 for swine flu testing. The cost of the test depends on the volume of samples,” said Dr Nilesh Shah, group president, Metropolis Laboratory. “We are looking at reducing the cost by Rs 500 to Rs 600. We charge Rs 4,000 for the test at present.”
However when HT contacted the lab, the cost of the test was Rs 5,000.
“We are even vaccinating all our staff members who are dealing with the samples, including technicians who do home collections,” said Dr Shah.
According to doctors, not all patients showing symptoms of the infection need to get tested. Health department officials said that doctors should monitor the symptoms and treat the patient with oseltamivir if they clinically suspect them of having H1N1 infection.
Dr BR Das, of SRL Diagnostics, had told HT earlier, “We only examine the samples of patients recommended for testing by doctors. The cost of the test depends on the kits and the logistic involved. There is not attempt to make profits.”
The cost of the test is calculated depending on the cost of kit, the equipment used and other overhead charges.
According to the guidelines provided by the central health ministry, the samples should be collected in a hospital set-up. However most labs are doing home visits, which increases the cost of testing further.