Healthcare has become one of India’s largest sector, both in terms of revenues and employment. Healthcare comprises hospitals, medical devices, clinical trials, outsourcing, tele-medicine, medical tourism, health insurance and medical equipment. The Indian healthcare sector is growing at a brisk pace due to its strengthening coverage, services and increasing expenditure by public as well private players. As per the estimates by IBEF (Indian Brand Equity Foundation), healthcare is expected to grow from US $100 billion market today to almost US $280 billion market by 2020, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.9%. Though these improvements show the Healthcare industry in good light, one of the major problems that Indian Healthcare sector faces is the lack of skilled workforce. The country is struggling to provide the adequate number of trained healthcare professionals, especially physicians, medical laboratory professionals, nurses, paramedics as well as technologists.
India has a ratio of 0.7 doctors and 1.5 nurses per 1,000 people compared to WHO’s ideal average of 2.5 doctors and nurses per 1000 people. This, in itself, is an acute shortage and needs to be addressed upon. The skill gap can be explicitly seen in many key areas of healthcare. Inadequate exposure to technology and thus, inadequate hands-on experience of operating machines leads to a gap, as most of the learning happens on the job. Inadequate communication skills and inability to adhere to standard hospital procedures also lead to the major skill gap especially when dealing with International clients. As per one of the studies, there is an envisioned shortage of around 2.36 lakh medical technologists, 1.98 lakh surgical and intervention technology related health professionals and more than 60,000 medical laboratory professionals. As per the above data, it is clearly visible that there is a huge skill gap in Healthcare which needs to be addressed soon.
The first task is to analyse the market demand and then aligning the education and training so that it can effectively match the demand. The education provided should give advantage to workforce to choose career paths that are readily available and required in the outside world.
Building such ecosystem is an important and needful task but it is a long term vision. At present, we have 1 doctor to manage 1700 patients and this ratio increases further in rural areas. Filling this demand-supply gap and healing this broken supply chain will take a long time. It is a difficult and slow process and if started today will take more than 20 years to show results. Increasing the supply of doctors is a crucial need and should not be overlooked but can be an ongoing solution.
Using technology to bridge this gap can be a viable option. As India move forward in Digital empowerment, making doctors more digitally oriented and helping them use technology in their day to day discussions can help solving this problem to a large extent. If there is a common platform where doctors from different specialties can come together and discuss cases among themselves, take second opinions from their colleagues and other doctors across the country and can also ask their queries from experts in their fields, it will help in solving a case better. Many such apps have come up recently that aim to build a secure network for medical professionals to collaborate and solve a case in a better and more efficient way.
Holistic approach to healthcare is what India wants right now. It is not only the doctors but the healthcare services as a whole needs an overhaul. There are very few full-fledged health associated services education institutes that are present in the country. For a profession that is supposed to save lives, these professions are the least lucrative in terms of salaries and hence the least sought after. This needs to change. Even doctors start earning after a long time. To get a specialisation it takes a minimum of 9 years. Also the no of doctors getting that specialisation is also less.
In terms of the IT infrastructure, India needs EMR and EHRs as soon as possible. The private hospitals do have it but they do not share it. There must be a central knowledge repository. India doesn’t lack good engineers. Hence building it won’t be a problem. It is only a question of good will on the part of the government and private players.
In terms of technology, biggies like google, Microsoft and even apple have forayed into healthcare technology market. Google glass can practically transform healthcare as we know it. Fitness tracker wearable’s though consumer end product can be useful if used the right way. Today healthcare is moving towards precision medicine where the medicines are customized and tailored for each patient individually and requires high end genetics. Mapmygenome along with a host of biotech/life-sciences companies are at the forefront of genetic engineering innovations that can really help diagnose terminal diseases at the very root. VR is the next station in the technology innovation bandwagon that has the potential to disrupt all sectors. More so the Healthcare industry with its ability to produce virtual environments to help understand disease better as well for training skilled workforce by simulating virtual pressure situations. Yes, if numbers is where we lacking in terms of healthcare professionals, we need to make it up by knowledge innovations and technology. Healthcare sector needs entrepreneurs and innovations. Companies like M3 in japan, Sermo in US and DXY in China have transformed healthcare by having a holistic view to healthcare. India too needs such approach.
With the Digital India initiative proposed by our Prime Minister and other laws showing more affinity towards this initiative, building a technology oriented future to bridge the skill gap in Healthcare is an achievable task.
Date: 19th March, 2016.