The state of the healthcare delivery system in India, especially in rural areas, leaves much to be desired. The reason behind it is chronic under investment in healthcare delivery infrastructure over the past several decades. Of course, there has been some improvement in the healthcare delivery system in rural areas in some states in recent years with increased spending on healthcare, but health infra in most states is nothing to write home about.
By now, it is obvious that the public healthcare delivery system cannot meet the needs of the entire population and the need of the hour is to strengthen private healthcare delivery services in rural areas, and develop innovative PPP models. Here is the diagnosis of the disease afflicting the healthcare delivery system in rural areas, the possible cure, and how we can turn these in our favour.
There is no doubt about the fact that in India, there is a shortage of doctors/surgeons, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. Adding to the woes is the fact a huge proportion of fresh-out-of-college doctors are not keen to serve in these areas. Many of them look for better career opportunities outside India.
Now, what do we do? We need to motivate young doctors to stay back and serve the country in areas where they are needed the most. We can do that by providing them with better facilities and working conditions, incentivising them for their good work, give them a non-political atmosphere to grow in their career.
In the meantime, we can use technology to connect more and more patients with doctors through telemedicine, and video-conferencing. In fact, now there are devices that can share vital medical information about patients in real time with their doctors. A small healthcare facility in a remote area with this cost-effective equipment and trained technical staff can help doctors at a distance know the exact condition of the patient and guide him/her with the treatment.
Similarly, for critically ill patients, e-ICU also helps connect super-specialists in megacities with doctors on the ground. This exchange of knowledge not only helps patients get the best of treatment at a low cost but also acts as training for younger doctors.
The opaqueness in billing and communication with the patient and his /her relatives is leading to growing mistrust and damaging the doctor-patient relationship. This is one problem that can be resolved with just a little effort. It does not involve cost, but it does involve intent.
When patients are hospitalised or undergo a specific medical/ surgical procedure, they have high hopes and expectations from the hospital. Trust is key to assuring quality healthcare and patient satisfaction. Medical facilities, doctors, surgeons, and medical staff must create this trust by making greater efforts for transparency.
It is vital to have a consistent supply of skilled and well-trained healthcare workforce. The lack of a skilled workforce is one of the major challenges for quality healthcare delivery services in rural areas, and this is not just limited to doctors, but even nurses and technicians who are important cogs in the wheels of the healthcare sector.
Besides, there is an urgent need to boost the healthcare infrastructure in rural areas. For private healthcare providers, the key concern is uncertainty over returns that are commensurate with the investments required or made. The government can step in and offer subsidies or incentives to healthcare providers as it does to industries. Some states have put in place policies to attract private investments in healthcare and have been quite successful, too.
This is easier said than done, but we live in times when technology has the answer for most challenges. What we are also seeing of late is private clinics and small hospitals in smaller towns tying up with health-tech providers and implementing proven innovations and best practices to make available different kinds of treatments to patients.
People, whether they are living in the metros or villages, are willing to spend, to access the best possible healthcare their pocket allows them to. The healthcare delivery mechanism will get a huge boost if doctors and private hospitals come to accept this and are adequately supported by the governments. It will be a win-win situation for all.
Views expressed by Bidhan Chowdhury, Founder of UAE-based Medi Q Healthcare Group and TaCa Healthcare (India).
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