Saturday, April 05, 2008

Private sector can help overcome doctor shortage: Report-India-The Times of India

Private sector can help overcome doctor shortage: Report-India-The Times of India: "According to a Planning Commission report, while India is short of six lakh doctors, 10 lakh nurses and two lakh dental surgeons, Indian doctors who have migrated to developed countries form nearly 5% of their medical workforce.

'The group is of the view that the only way to accomplish this (bridging the gap in doctors) is for the medical education sector to be opened up completely for private sector participation."

I think this is a very ineffective way of trying to address this chronic problem. Governments have tried to improve the provision of healthcare services for many years by trying to train more doctors - or by providing a new cadre of "barefoot doctors". Unfortunately, all these solutions are doomed to fail because of the nature of the medical profession. Doctors ( just like bureaucrats and lawyers and all professionals) will always try to create more demand for their services - so that the more the doctors you produce, the greater will be the projected need for their services, which means this is a Sisyphean ordeal which will never succeed. Successive officials will continue trotting out the same old solutions in different garbs - but this will only serve to enrich a select few ( in this case, the politicians who own the private medical colleges).

A much more effective way of tackling this problem is to acknowledge that the secret does not lie in trying to improve the supply of doctors; but in helping patients make more efficient use of the existing doctors. The secret is patient education - and enlightened patients can make much better use of the existing healthcare facilities.

The trouble is that we do not respect our citizens . We do not think they are smart enough to be able to make these decisions for themselves . If we give them the right tools, I think they can ! Let's acknowledge the fact that the patient is the first medical decision-maker. She ( usually it's a she) decides when to go to a doctor and when to manage the problem at home; which doctor to go to; when to get a second opinion, and so on. Unfortunately, a number of times these are poorly informed decisions, because we have not taken the time and the trouble to help patients make well-informed decisions.

It's high time we looked at this problem with a new lens if we expect to resolve it !

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