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India only has 5,500 experts with MD-pathology degree compared to more than 3 lakh medical labs

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Aditi Tandon    11 January 2018

Red-flagging the consequences of the Supreme Court’s recent orders mandating only pathology postgraduates to sign medical laboratory reports, healthcare providers today urged the government to seek immediate review of the apex court directions.

The Association of Healthcare Providers, representing a majority of those in the field in India, said the orders would create an impossible situation considering the country had a few professionals with MD pathology degrees and their availability for report signing would become a challenge.

The SC pronounced the orders in the matter of North Gujarat unit of the Association of Self-employed Owners (Paramedical) of Private Pathology Laboratories of Gujarat versus North Gujarat Pathologist Association.

“We dispose of all the special leave petitions and other pending applications, if any, by taking a view that the stand of MCI that the (medical) laboratory reports can be countersigned only by a registered medical practitioner with postgraduate qualification in pathology is correct,” the court said.

Until recently, medical laboratory reports were reviewed and signed by MD-pathology, MD-microbiology, MD-biochemistry and MSc/PhD in microbiology and biochemistry.

This ended when the Medical Council of India (MCI) in June 2017 debarred MSc/PhD in biochemistry and microbiology for signing test reports. 

The MCI order was challenged in courts, but the latest SC order has closed the matter agreeing with MCI.

Healthcare providers now feel the judgment will have serious repercussions for the sector with numbers of MD-pathology being only 5,500. 

“We have around 9,500 professionals with MD-microbiology and MD-biochemistry qualification. Postgraduate degree holders in microbiology and biochemistry are around 20,000. Then we have about 1,500 Ph.D in biochemistry, microbiology, genetics and molecular biology. All put together, we have 36,500 qualified personnel, who have been till now the authorised signatories for various medical test reports. By virtue of the SC order, we will be left with only 5,500 persons to sign the report,” reasons Dr Girdhar Gyani, Director General, AHPI.

There are around three lakh medical testing laboratories in the country and it could become humanly impossible for 5,500 MD-pathology persons to handle the workload. This, healthcare providers say, could breed corruption.

“These professionals will be pushed to become visiting signatory authorities covering many cities. Pathologists may begin lending electronic signatures from one central office to hundreds of test reports. All this will hamper the authenticity of test reports, which are the sole basis for physicians to prescribe treatment. The current pool of MD-pathology in the country will hardly be enough even for major tier-I and tier-II cities. This will adversely affect the availability of signatories in smaller towns and rural areas would be worst sufferers,” Dr Gyani said. 

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