At one point in our lives, we must have been to hospitals as patients or guardians to ailing relatives.
We then know that hospital visits, whether at public or private healthcare institutions, come with financial demands. The challenging part about sickness is that it often isn’t predictable when it will strike. As such, financial demands arising from this can be draining when we are least prepared.
Prudence in life entails preparation for such unforeseen events. For those who can afford it, there is healthcare insurance. Some choose to keep emergency funds personally while others cannot keep them at all as they live by the day. All these are realities of our lives. Whether prepared or not, there is the certainty that costs will be incurred directly or indirectly each time we visit hospitals.
Medical practice has greatly evolved over the years. Many years ago, diagnosis and management of diseases largely depended on how health practitioners observed patients or on what the patients said they felt or experienced. The big problem with this practice was, and still is, that many diseases manifest with similar signs and symptoms. In the background of this, treatment based on signs and symptoms becomes a trial-and-error affair with patients returning to the hospital repeatedly if one treatment does not work. In the case of patients admitted to wards, this means staying longer while trying various options.
Today, advanced laboratory techniques look for specific substances for particular diseases or conditions in our bodies. Effective patient management in modern-day healthcare practice demands the use of evidence-based methods from high-quality diagnostic techniques. With these techniques, a disease or medical condition can specifically be identified comparatively quickly. This relieves patients or guardians of the costly burden of visiting hospitals now and then trying to know their condition.
Furthermore, early diagnosis means a patient will receive appropriate treatment in good time. The financial cost-benefit of this is that the patients get specific medication. This prevents unnecessary expenditure on various drugs that patients would have been trying if the condition was not specifically known in the first place.
Medically, early diagnosis of diseases enables healthcare practitioners to manage conditions before advanced stages. This reduces the possibility of severe complications that would demand more specialist medical attention which is often costly. Going further, these complications often put patients in debilitating conditions, leaving them with financially demanding long-term dependence on constant medical attention.
Additionally, advanced diagnostic facilities also become reliable in providing recognised results that would be used for purposes other than clinical management, such as proof of sickness in workplaces or even in forensic investigations. This helps authorities take quick actions, thereby reducing operational complications that would cost more if such actions were delayed.
At the institutional level at healthcare facilities, advanced laboratory diagnostic systems would translate to reduced expenditure on unnecessary repeated treatments on patients.
Quicker and more specific diagnoses lead to patients being attended to quickly, reducing the cost of keeping patients for long in hospital.
While these benefits of advanced medical laboratory diagnostic technologies exist, Malawi is yet to leverage on them. Much of the technology locally available for day-to-day diagnostic use is not up-to-date due to underinvestment in the field. Many institutions still rely on basic, highly unspecific methods. Consequently, the [financial] burden of this is on patients and the public. To improve, investment in advanced laboratory technologies by health institutions, government or private, is, therefore, necessary. n