It was on June 15 that the Telangana government allowed 17 private diagnostic laboratories in the state, with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) approval, to carry out COVID-19 testing. However, barely eight days later, several of these diagnostic centres already find themselves overburdened and functioning at full capacity. The sheer influx of persons seeking tests has forced some to restructure the way they operate and even place fresh orders for equipment to enhance their testing capability.
Those working at these diagnostic centres are unsure of handling the testing load if more people seek COVID-19 tests in the coming weeks.
At Vijaya Diagnostics at Himayth Nagar, the number of those seeking COVID-19 tests on June 22 was above the testing capacity at the facility. By June 23, the diagnostic centre stopped collecting samples at their Himayath Nagar facility and requested those seeking tests to visit the four sample collection centres set up by the firm instead.
âWe can do a maximum of 400 tests a day but we were getting about 700 to 800 person walking in for tests, it was difficult to manage the crowd and we had to turn people away,â said G Manohar Reddy, the centre manager at Vijaya Diagnostics, âWe are now requesting people not to visit this facility. We have set up four COVID-19 sample collection centres and are requesting people to go there instead. The sample will be brought here and tested,â he added.
At the beta block of Virinchi Hospital in Banjara Hills, where the sample collection is done, the reception was crowded with little or no social distancing in place on Tuesday.
At the Beta block where the COVID-19 samples are collected at Virinchi Hospital, it was all hands on deck. One staff member manning the reception, and taking down details of those seeking tests said, "If I get tested, am very much sure that I will be positive for the coronavirus, but I am very healthy.â
The Cell Diagnostic Centre at Virinchi Hospital has a capacity to test 250 samples a day. âMany seek tests because they have doubts if they have contracted COVID-19. Even asymptomatic people are coming in for testing, which is increasing our load. People are in panic and rushing to the hospital,â he said, expecting the demand for tests to rise in the coming weeks.
Results take time
One of the biggest concerns presently faced by diagnostic centres TNM spoke to was the âturnaround timeâ required for test results to reach the patient. Tests results take as many as three to four days, and six days in some cases.
The diagnostic centres pin the delay on piling paper work. âIn an hour, we can test 100 samples,â explains Manohar. For example, if even 40% of these 100 samples come positive in an hour, the diagnostic centre has to update the data in state and ICMR portals.
âThe state requires more details, such as the patient address and other information. We also have to allot a unique COVID-19 positive number that the patient has to take to the hospital to get admitted. All this data entry and paperwork take time but the patients donât understand the backend work,â he adds.
The delay in test results could prove problematic for those with comorbidities, delaying treatment, and those manning the diagnostic centres are well aware of this. Both Cell Diagnostics and Vijaya Diagnostics hope to expand their testing capabilities in the coming weeks to meet the load and reduce the time required for issuing test results to patients.
âWe are trying to double our testing capacity. Maybe even triple it,â said the Cell Diagnostics staff member.
Vijaya Diagnostics is hiring new staff and buying equipment to double their testing capacity with expectation of more tests in the coming weeks.
Both Vijaya Diagnostic Centre and the Cell Diagnostics at Vrinichi Hospital charge the government fixed rate of Rs 2,200 per test per patient. The state has allowed the diagnostic centres to levy Rs 2,800 for testing suspected COVID-19 patients at their homes, but they charged an additional Rs 300 for the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Both have, however, stopped charging for PPE after public backlash.
A home visit from the private diagnostic centre personnel for sample collection was an option available for suspected COVID-19 patients. However, the sheer number of requests has made home visits impractical for the diagnostic centres.
âWe have limited staff and due to COVID-19, we are working on reduced capacity. In such a scenario, sending a team to collect a sample from one single suspected patient makes no sense. Most people prefer us to visit their homes but it only makes economic sense for us if we test 10 persons from a single household or an area,â said staff member at Cell Diagnostics.
Vijaya Diagnostics also stopped making house visits for similar reasons, âHalf the day goes into collecting the sample from a few patients. In that time the team can test more people at our facility. Home visits made sense when the case numbers were low, but it's rising day by day and doesnât make sense anymore,â says Manohar.
However, diagnostic centres like Dr Remedies Labs Private Ltd at Panjagutta only provide home visits, âOur office space is not suited to accommodate a rush of suspected patients. So we do only home visits,â said staff at this diagnostic lab. The lab charges Rs 2800 for test and an additional Rs 300 for PPE.