‘No trick of trade in healthcare; it’s reading, updating’: Dr Dang at HTNxt
The Indian diagnostic industry has been rapidly evolving over the years and has emerged to be the key component of the healthcare segment. Dr Dangs Lab has been a pioneering testing centre catering to patients for over three decades.
Set up in Delhi in 1985, by Dr Navin Dang, at a time when the national capital had only a handful of private hospitals and the concept of an interactive diagnostic laboratory was unheard of, Dang Lab has had many firsts.
It is among the first three labs to have started testing for H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 and one of the first few private laboratories in Delhi to get permission to test samples for coronavirus.
Dr Navin Dang, the director of Dangs Lab, and his CEO son, Dr Arjun Dang, offered insight into the diagnostics sector in HTNxt, a first-of-its-kind platform that is bringing together the Next-Gen leaders & newsmakers to discuss pertinent issues and offer innovative solutions for a better tomorrow.
The father-son duo brought to fore two different perspectives from separate generations in the field of healthcare diagnostics.
Mint’s Neetu Chandra Sharma asked the senior Dr Dang what motivated him, an alumnus of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, to become an entrepreneur than continuing in the conventional healthcare sector.
“I was working with the AIIMS at that time. Those were the days when a lab was considered to be a place where samples would come, be processed and the reports sent back to the hospitals. The samples were collected from the hospital wards of the patients. There was no interaction with the patients,” Dr Navin Dang said, adding, “At that time in Delhi there were only four private hospitals and only a handful of labs. The demand for diagnostic tests was increasing, but it would take a long time for the reports to be ready. That’s not what I liked.”
The senior doctor said that he saw a vacuum in the diagnostics sector and found the role it played to be inadequate. “With the perception that I will be able to prove better services, better turnaround times for the tests; and that I will be able to interact with the patients and doctors, and empower them to take timely medical decisions, I started the Dangs Lab,” he said.
However, the path was fraught with challenges. The senior Dr Dang said when the H1N1 virus struck in 2009, the then chief minister had called a handful of private labs and asked how many of them can start testing the samples for the infection.
“To be very honest, I had no clue. But I knew that I could do it by investing and by studying and learning. I told the chief minister that I can do it in 15 days. The same evening, I was called to the national television where I repeated the same statement,” Dr Navin Dang said.
“From ordering the equipment and with the help of my team, I took this endeavour with the help of my teachers and the NCDC and all others I could seek help from. Within 15 days I set up one of the best molecular biology labs in the city and started the tests from 16th day onwards,” he added.
The doctor who authored many research papers in international journals and has been part of various government-appointed committees said there’s nothing called the trick of the trade in the field of healthcare. “It is knowing the trade, and you can only know by reading and studying, and keeping yourself abreast with the latest technology,” he said.
“Doctors are doctors as long as they are students. Doctors should know how to say I don’t know,” the senior doctor said.
The senior doctor’s son, Dr Arjun Dang, carried on the legacy by becoming the CEO of the Dr Dangs Lab upon his return from London in 2016. He is also accredited for setting up India’s first drive-through centre for sample collection of Covid-19 patients
He said when he was in London pursuing his fellowship in pathology two distinct paths lay in front of him.
“One was to continue in the UK and the other was coming back to carry forward this legacy, which is a lab known for its unparalleled quality and patient care, the bases of which were based on protocols and processes laid down by my own parent. I chose to take the latter path knowing I will have big shoes to fill in, but with a crystal-clear aim to make a difference,” Dr Arjun said.
The young doctor said echoed his father’s views that there is no dearth of learning in the field of diagnostic healthcare.
“Ever since last year in March when we started testing and the pandemic came to India, we’ve had a learning that has been a constant. With the science behind the virus itself evolving, on a weekly or a daily basis, it required a lot of learning, re-learning and recalibration processes, thinking and then putting forward our best,” Dr Arjun explained.
Laboratory medicine today is an established field. There are several players thriving across India. But what was the scenario when Dr Dang Lab was started?
“Those days diagnostic was considered to be a hole in the wall kind of speciality. I tried my best to change the whole thing, by bringing quality tests, increasing the variety of tests which were there and bringing in automation,” Dr Navin Dang said.
The senior doctor said the patients have now become extremely conscious of the quality adherence. “Unfortunately, in the past one-and-a-half years we have seen a paradigm shift in the way there is so much teleconsultation going on. If the patients are not meeting the doctors how do reach a decision that is dependent upon what the doctors find," he said.
However, the junior Dr Dang differs from his father as far as the technological shift is concerned.
He stressed that the labs must aim to build a huge online presence and provide the patients with increased accessibility and good user experience — from the time of booking till the time they get their reports and assistance to understand the reports.
The laboratories today have brought diagnostics to the doorstep of the consumers, which is keeping pace with teleconsultations with doctors. The Indian laboratory diagnostic industry is estimated at $6 billion is growing at a very healthy rate of 13-14% per annum.
Dr Arjun Dang said his focus is on 3Ps — patience, passion and perseverance — to stay ahead of the curve in the cut-throat market of competitors.
“It is a constant process that would require us to stay updated and abreast with latest technologies, new practices all over the world and what is happening in the diagnostic segment, and read on a constant basis so we can adapt to these new technologies and train our teams,” Dr Arjun Dang explained.
“We need to focus on the granular details that provide value to a particular patient. Value over volume is something that has been going on for many years, and I am here to take it forward to the best of my abilities," he added.
HTNxT, a thought leadership programme, is being held virtually for the first time. The theme for the inaugural year is 'Leading the change'.