KOCHI: Lack of a monitoring system to streamline and manage people getting tested at private laboratories and hospitals in the state has become a huge concern with many complaining about the delay in receiving the test results and treatment. Kerala has recorded an increase in the number of people opting for rapid antigen test for Covid-19 after the government gave permission to private facilities to carry out the tests.
P S Reghunath Raj, a 64-year-old symptomatic patient from the capital, who decided to get tested at a private laboratory with the hope of fast-tracking the process, had to wait for three days to get the results and was left to make a slew of panic calls to get treatment.
“My wife and I had a mild fever. After three days, we decided to get ourselves tested. Considering the long waiting period at the government hospital, we opted for a private lab. After waiting for almost three days, I contacted the private lab where I gave my swab sample for the RT-PCR test. They initially refused to share my report. When I insisted, they told me I was Covid-19 positive but refused to hand over the result. I have been sick for almost six days and being a homoeo doctor, I panicked and contacted a few private hospitals but they won’t take me in without the lab report.
As a last resort, I contacted the health authorities,” says Reghunath. “All we want is to be admitted to a hospital and get treated at the earliest. I spoke to the health authorities and after hours of waiting, we were moved to the Medical College Hospital. I spent Rs 5,500 for the tests. I don’t understand why the private lab is refusing to give me the report. I have approached the police to register a complaint regarding the same,” adds Reghunath, who is one among the many facing similar issues.
As per the guidelines issued by ICMR, all private laboratories should ensure immediate or real-time reporting of positive cases to state officials of IDSP (Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme) and the ICMR headquarters for timely initiation of contact tracing. Unfortunately, the state has no mechanism to monitor the procedure resulting in the delay of medical care for patients raising concern among people with comorbidities.
According to the Kerala Medical Laboratory Owners Association (KMLOA), private labs are not allowed to declare a patient Covid-19 positive. “We have to strictly comply with the rules and regulation set by the state and Centre. We hand over the result of every patient to the District Medical Office which then initiate contact tracing. Testing in private facilities has increased significantly this month. Hence, a slight delay is natural. But as far as I know, every lab is releasing the result within 24 to 48 hours. There is a form to be filled in on the official portal of the ICMR which is being updated regularly. We are delivering results without much delay compared to government labs,” said Abdussalam K, state vice-president of KMLOA.
Although the state government had issued orders directing the district authorities to set up a dedicated system for coordinating admission of patients, referrals and in-patient facilities, it is yet to be implemented. “The state government has issued an order to set up a centralised system or control room in each district to monitor the real-time updation of test results and evaluate patients who will be needing medical assistance. But this is yet to take off. A monitoring system is a must for identifying patients needing critical care and guiding them to respective hospitals,” said a senior official of the health department.
The official added that real-time monitoring is crucial for effective management of infrastructure, preventing delays, averting panic among the patients and ensuring proper care. “As per the order, a committee should be constituted in every district to track the real-time status of beds, ICUs and ventilators in public and private hospitals. A 24x7 helpline number needs to be introduced for coordinating admissions,” the official added.
According to officials, over 70 per cent of people in the state depend on private laboratories and hospitals for medical care. “The public is dependent on private hospitals for other ailments, so their natural instinct is to consult them for testing. However, private hospitals are reluctant to take in Covid-19 patients, this has to change.”