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India’s allopathic doctor-to patient ratio dismally low at 1:1445

According to Rural Health Statistics report published by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on January 12, India is reeling under an acute shortage of specialist doctors, with a shortfall of nearly 80% of the required specialists at Community Health Centres (CHCs).

A visit to any Government hospital in India presents the distressing image of serpentine queues of patients snaking all the way to the entrance gates of the hospital. 75 years after independence, why is this the state of Indian healthcare?

Let’s start with some statistics – The ratio of allopathic general doctors to India’s population is 1:1445, which is significantly worse than the World Health Organization’s prescribed standard 1:1000. Shifting focus to medical specialists and super specialists portrays an even more distressing picture. According to Rural Health Statistics report published by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on January 12, India is reeling under an acute shortage of specialist doctors, with a shortfall of nearly 80% of the required specialists at Community Health Centres (CHCs). The report points out that there is a shortfall of specialist doctors, including surgeons (83.2%), obstetricians and gynecologists (74.2%), physicians (79.1%) and pediatricians (81.6%). Apart from specialist doctors, there is also a shortage of female health workers and auxiliary nursing midwives, with upto 14.4% of these posts lying vacant in primary health centers and sub-centres.

The looming shortage of doctors isn’t an India specific problem- it is now a global challenge. In advanced countries, the challenge of doctor shortage arises from reduced birth rates coupled with an aging population.

How do we improve this situation ? We cannot create or train more doctors overnight, but we can certainly improve the efficiency and productivity of existing ones and help them serve more patients. Solutions that can reduce administrative load, automate mundane activities and help improve efficiency of doctors can play a key role in ensuring that the time of existing doctors is utilized to the best of their abilities.

So how can AI support here? Here are practical solutions:

  1. Diagnosis and decision support: By leveraging machine learning algorithms, AI-powered diagnostic tools can process vast amounts of patient information, including symptoms, medical history, and test results, to deliver timely and accurate diagnoses and treatment plans. Such solutions can drastically ease pressure on doctors’ time allowing them to focus on more pressing priorities and emergencies.
  2. Remote patient monitoring: Access to doctors and especially to specialists is a major challenge, especially in rural India. AI-powered remote monitoring devices and platforms can support remote doctor consultations, track patients’ vital statistics and alert doctors in real-time of challenges in patient health – all without the need for in-person visits of doctors. Such solutions improve doctors’ efficiency by enabling them to service a larger number of remote patients.
  3. Automation of administrative tasks: Data shows that for every hour a physician spends with their patients, they spend another two hours documenting that care. This is not the best use of a physician’s precious time. AI-powered algorithms can automate routine administrative tasks such as billing data entry, appointment scheduling and medical record management, allowing doctors to focus their attention on patient care and medical decision-making.
  4. Efficiencies due to image and data analysis: Large volumes of data, such as medical records and diagnostic imaging can be analyzed by AI-powered systems to identify patterns or abnormalities that can potentially miss the human eye. This only saves precious time for doctors but also helps improve patient care and outcomes.
  5. Patient engagement and education: By dispensing general health information and supporting routine inquiries, AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can serve as the first point of interaction for patients, thereby freeing up precious time of doctors to focus on more serious topics.
  6. Medical education and training: Medical training is a time-consuming process. By providing access to vast amounts of medical knowledge and expertise, AI-powered virtual training platforms can simulate real-life medical scenarios and personalize learning experience. This can help train the next generation of doctors, speeding up future availability of doctors and help reduce the shortage of doctors.

Summing it up, AI has the potential to alleviate the physician shortage through a combination of reduced administrative burden, improved physician efficiency and refocusing doctor’s time on higher value activities that improve patient outcomes. India AI

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