Information asymmetry in the Kenyan medical laboratory sector.
Bahati F., English M., Sayed S., Horton S., Odhiambo OA., Samatar AA., McKnight J.
BACKGROUND: Important information about medical laboratory providers is not readily available to all patients, clinicians nor regulators in Kenya. This study was conducted as part of a wider project aiming to improve access to high quality diagnostics by addressing information asymmetries in the Kenyan market for laboratory services. OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to: 1) Gather pricing information for 49 common laboratory tests from medical laboratories in Nairobi, Kenya, noting where these prices were publicly available or withheld. 2) Assess patients' knowledge of testing information including: turnaround time, price, and test availability. METHOD: This was a cross-sectional study where a mystery caller approach was used to survey 49 tests for turnaround time, price, and availability across 13 laboratories selected purposively. The mystery shopper survey was complemented by 251 patient exit interviews at two Kenyan hospitals to understand whether patients seeking laboratory tests in Nairobi had access to such information. All 251 patients were selected by convenience sampling. RESULTS: We noted that 85% of the private laboratories did not disclose test prices and turnaround times to their patients. There was a wide range of prices on several key tests, with private in-facility laboratories charging an average test price of 468% of the average test price in public laboratories across all the 49 tests. We also found that many patients lacked key information regarding the tests they needed: 65% did not know the purpose of the test while 41% did not know the test price at all. CONCLUSION: Under the current system, patients have limited access to information regarding the key criteria required to make a rational decision. This has a significant impact on the quality, price, and turnaround time (TAT) offered by the medical laboratories that operate in this dysfunctional market.