Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Treating India's ailing healthcare system by championing patient education

Most of us would agree that though Indian doctors are amongst the best in the world, the Indian healthcare system is sick. Private healthcare can be world-class; but this is expensive and unaffordable for the vast majority. While the government does provide free healthcare, a lot of it is of very poor quality. Both doctors and patients are unhappy, as evidenced by the increasing violence against doctors and patients.

One reason for this sad state of affairs is that the entire medical system is built around the doctor. This is crazy! Healthcare is a service industry, and should be designed around the patient. The best way of doing this would be empowering patients with information, so they know how to get the best medical care, in partnership with their doctor.

Unfortunately, patient education seems to be no one's baby, as a result of which it is a relatively neglected area. This is a shame, because the potential cost-benefit ratio is huge! For the investment of a small amount of money, it's possible to improve the healthcare millions of patients receive. Patients represent healthcare's largest resource - and they have been untapped so far. If we can make intelligent use of patients, and help them to make use of their intelligence, everyone will benefit!

An investment in patient education is one of the most cost-effective ways of improving healthcare in India. Well-informed patients will take much better care of themselves, and information therapy will help to make medical care much more patient-centric.

This can be a major opportunity for pharmacists. So far, chemists in India have been treated as "baniyas", who only sell medicines. This is partly because most of them have only focused on making money, by selling products. They do not provide any value addition. However, the traditional small chemist shop is now under threat, as the large retail healthcare chains enter India. Just like the small "mom and pop" grocery stores are closing down because Indians prefer to shop in large malls, the large pharmacy chains will wipe out the small chemist, because of their financial muscle and ability to provide better service. The only way the small chemist can counter this threat is by providing better service to his patients. Patients are thirsty for information, but their doctors are often too busy to talk to them. If pharmacists (who are also professionals and expert in their field) can take the time and trouble to educate their patients, their customers will remain faithful to them!

The good news is that there is a lot of patient educational material which is now freely available. It's easy to adapt this – and to translate this into local languages. This investment in patient education will actually help pharmacists to increase their business!

1 comment:

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