Captains of India's healthcare industry, including Dr Devi Shetty, Dr Naresh Trehan, and Shivinder Mohan Singh came together on a common platform in the city recently to share their vision of the future. The doyens of India's health sector talked on key issues plaguing India's healthcare industry, including the lack of manpower and policy and regulatory issues as well as the need for greater integration of modern and traditional systems of medicine, better use of technology and the need to upgrade skillsets to ensure a better healthcare system for the 21st century.
Calling for major changes in the existing health system, Dr Naresh Trehan, CMD, Global Health (Medicity), said: "Healthcare is basically disease management. We should build our system from the ground up to create a new blue-print of India's healthcare. We have over 800,000 ASHAs (Accredited Social Healthcare Activists) in India, but they are ill trained and don't have any medical skills. Their costs are a huge burden on the exchequer and nothing gets accomplished in return. All we have to do is to upscale their skills so that they can be the eyes and ears of the healthcare system on the ground. They need to monitor hygiene and find out who in the community needs medical assistance. This will be a big help in ensuring quick diagnosis of diseases and reducing the incidence of NCDs."
Talking about the acute shortage of medical specialists in the country, Dr. Devi Shetty, Founder & Chairman, Narayana Health, pointed out that while the US has 19,000 undergraduate medical seats and 32,000 PG seats, in India it is the opposite - the country has close to 50,000 undergraduate medical seats but only 14,000 PG seats. "The low number of PG seats results in a shortage of specialists. This can have terrible consequences on the ground. For example, India has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and this is unrelated to the amount of money we spend on healthcare. The reason is that we have created a regulatory structure where only a specialist can perform certain tasks, and the country simply doesn't produce enough of these specialists," he said.
Dr Shetty suggested that to tide over the problem, the country needs medical educational institutions on the line of the College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPS) in Maharashtra which would offer diploma courses in fields like anesthesia, gynecology, and pediatrics to medical graduates. "This can convert the entire 50,000 medical graduates produced in India every year into specialists who can then help reduce maternal mortality in India," he added. "If we want to deliver better healthcare outcomes, India doesn't require money. We only require policy changes. This will not happen till the Government looks at medical education as integral part of the country's development."
Dr Shetty also expressed concern about the nursing profession in India, which he said would die down in a few years if urgent measures are not taken. "There is zero career progression for nurses. Nursing is now considered a dead-end career. Admissions to nursery colleges in India have come down by 50%. Half of the nursing colleges in Karnataka have shut shop. In the years ahead, there will be an acute shortage of nurses in the country. There is a critical need to empower nurses by offering them a path to upgrade their skills and become specialists. About 67% of anesthesia in the US is given by nurse anesthetists. In India, we don't allow a nurse who has worked in critical care for 20 years to even prescribe a Paracetamol tablet!" he said.