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India Poised to Redraw Healthcare Service Sector

Friday, March 30th, 2012
indian surgeons

Indian surgical team.

The Union health care minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has announced policy changes in the health care and medical institutions sector, indicating reforms are taking place from grass root levels to primary and urban healthcare systems. Making the announcement at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which is a governmentsponsored annual event during which new government policies benefiting People of Indian Origin are launched, the Minister proposed that the government would soon approve policies that will allow PIOs with overseas medical qualifications to teach as well as to practice in India.

While the announcement was welcomed by Indians and doctors abroad, several media reports have also noted that Indian healthcare professionals are taken aback, given the current low-employment status of qualified doctors in the country. The opinions of such stressed qualified doctors are a sharp contrast, note media reports, to the Ministers view that there was a “lack of skilled manpower in the Indian healthcare system.” According to the Minister, the move to employ and deploy health care professionals with overseas-experience would be a strategic move to “encourage capacity building in medical institutions,” as the country faced a crisis in quality medical teachers.

First Stage Would be Reforms in Medical Institutions

The government is proposing the new medical institution reforms as a much-needed infrastructural correction to the healthcare system that will encourage building better medical institutions, through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and increasing the student-tutor ratio from its present 1:2 to 1:1 for Post Graduate Medical Colleges. In fact, the Minister quoted the current statistics of qualified and available healthcare professionals – which adds up to more than five hundred thousand qualified practitioners in Indian medicinal systems, while there is a dearth of nearly seven hundred thousand doctors in the allopathic treatment system.

However, medical students, especially post-graduate students, say that the present government policy that permits only threefourth percentile of students appearing for pre-qualification exams for post graduate studies (that is to say, for every 7,500 students appearing for the premier medical entrance exam conducted by All India Institute of Medical Sciences, only 5,000 students are selected) is the bane of the entire low-supply of doctors to the Indian health care system. This results in several qualified doctors losing close to two years in preparation and qualifying for the exams and for the unsuccessful doctors repeating the whole process in the following years as well.

Status of Health Care Sector in India

The healthcare service sector in India is constantly under pressure as healthcare professionals there are constantly under public purview and are subject to several challenges both within and outside their profession and service. Several nonprogressive policies have proved to be the biggest challenge for the healthcare sector in recent years. Official apathy, leadership bordering on brinkmanship and poor implementation of healthcare in primary and tertiary healthcare categories continue to be the bane of the society. While there are certain categories such as child and women healthcare that have kept pace with most of the proposed programs, there are several other categories, especially with relation to rural population, where health care has remained ineffective.

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The Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, addressing at the 16th Convocation of National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, in Bangalore on January 20, 2012.

Despite the muddled scenario, the healthcare industry has been growing by over 12 percent per annum in the past four years. The healthcare system was confined largely to government hospitals until the 1980s, but analysts believe that with a turnaround over the last decade, the medical system of India has encouraged the growth of private and corporate health participation. Today, corporate hospitals, private nursing homes and clinics are the prime drivers in the Indian Medical system. Corporate and private sector hospital facilities with sophisticated and advanced technologies serve society better as there has been an increase in Indian health issues due to changes in lifestyles and environmental structures. A surge of private healthcare system, analysts report, is expected to touch billions of dollars in the years to come, as there is to be a major progression in the aspects of technology and service. In the year 2005, the healthcare industry had generated a revenue of nearly $US30 billion, or, explicitly, 5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

FDI in Healthcare Institutions 2012

A Times of India news report notes that the Indian government, in order to aid the healthcare sector, has shaped the new medical institutions policy that ensures 100 percent automatic FDI clearance and provides infrastructure support to the setting-up of hospitals as well as low tariffs on medical equipment. The Union Minister for Health’s announcement at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which stated tax free holidays for hospitals in rural areas for five years, was well accepted, as it will bring about greater quality healthcare availability at the grass roots level as well as at competitive prices, the report noted.

Growth of Medical Tourism

Discussion on various forums and across media-platforms shows a rather divided interest is at the root of the health care system. On the one hand, India’s healthcare sector offers the most cost-effective surgical services in comparison to most global medical care systems. The quick and dedicated quality healthcare available in the country has led to a phenomenal development in medical tourism, as India is now renowned globally for its quality service at affordable prices and world class facilities. On the other hand, there is a noticeable lack of medical professionals to impart advanced and quality service in the nation. Discussions across several media, involving medical students and qualified doctors who are presently unemployed, rue that the government is not addressing their cause and that it is keen on opening up the sector to FDI, while there is yet greater scope for resident and domestic doctors to fill up the requirement. However, the government proposes to call in foreign-qualified postgraduates to teach Indian medical students and to practice at healthcare centers in India, especially in the allopathic domain. Media reports have stated that, “The government of India has approved generous amount of funds for the progress of the healthcare sector to enrich the medical services for a better and healthy country. Healthcare is a critical sector as there are countless health concerns faced by the people around the country. A rapid growth of the health care industry has been observed in recent years and there is anticipation that the growth pace will increase by 15 percent per annum this year. The share of the health care sector of India in GDP is likely to surpass the current 1 percent to 2.5 percent.”

Experts and industry analysts point out that, “The centre is also making an allowance for Indian medical practitioners with specialization from the countries like the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to practice in India.” These five countries are favorite destinations for Indian origin students to pursue post-graduation degrees. In other words, the students of Indian origin practicing in other countries are to be invited by the Indian government to serve in the medical industry for teaching at the post-graduate students and also to carry out their professions in healthcare sector.

Why the Clarion Call to PIO Doctors?

In India, there are virtually five hundred thousand qualified medical practitioners and a lack of nearly six hundred thousand doctors in the allopathic domain. The Union Minister, after distinguishing the five countries which are famed for post-graduation studies (see above), was also quoted as saying, “Let me assure you that we are pre pared to go an extra mile to adequately liberalize policies and set up a single window within the ministry of health and family welfare to ease the process of your meaningful participation.”

Media reports also noted that, in the minister’s opinion, in consideration of the nearly three hundred thousand medical practitioners working out of the country (concentrated mainly in the United Kingdom health system alone, with around 40,000 individuals), “The Indian Medical professionals are an integral part of the healthcare delivery system the world over and have won laurels for their competence in various countries, including the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia and Gulf countries.”

Media reports on the follow-up seminar on the same topic noted the minister’s brief that mentioned the dearth of medical institutions in India in the private sector and that the government is considering establishing “new medical institutions while meeting the land requirements with fine infrastructure facility and student professor ratio to be increased to 1:1 from the existing 1:2 in the post-graduate colleges and institutions, brought about by the increase in new medical colleges added to the medical system in the past two years.”

Entrepreneurial Opportunities will Restructure Indian Health Care System

According to news reports, the health minister has also added that, “Riding on the recent successes, India enters the 2012 year with a great hope. The 12th Five Year plan to be launched in 2012 brings health to the center stage and our commitment is to increase expenditure on healthcare to 2.5 percent of our Gross Domestic Product from the current level of 1 percent. We are moving towards universal healthcare for the nation and ensuring that no individual fails to secure adequate medical care because of inability to pay for it.”

Venturing into the healthcare sector in India today is certainly an opportunity for entrepreneurial healthcare professionals and educational institutions keen on making a qualitative difference in medical education in India.

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