Dr Abhik Banerjee
Sr. Consultant-Pathology, Chief of Quality
Suraksha Diagnostic Pvt. Ltd.

Is it time to relook at Indian healthcare?

As we are all aware, since last few years, Indian healthcare sector has seen a boom with increasing medical tourism due to robust improvement in infrastructure and better availability of cutting edge technologies which are comparable with global standards. Even internally, the growth was driven by increase in prevalence of lifestyle disorders, chronic diseases, rising income level, ageing population, growing health awareness and resultant high focus on early diagnosis of diseases.

The advantages of Indian healthcare sector are its highly competent manpower along with its service which is quite affordable in comparison to European or American markets. However the disadvantage lies in the unorganized, unregulated, fragmented players which largely dominate the Indian market. Country’s healthcare market has lots of potential to reach at its best provided quality control can be ensured at every level be it small, standalone entities or corporate giants.

On budgetary allocation in healthcare
The Indian health sector caters to a huge population of almost 138 crore. Hence it is really a challenge for government in view of the annual expenses involved. India’s current public health expenditure has remained between 1.2 to 1.6 percent of GDP in 2019-20 whereas the total healthcare spending (out-of-pocket and public) currently stands at 3.6 percent of GDP. This expenditure is quite low as compared to countries like China, USA, Germany, Japan, and is definitely grossly inadequate in view of the rapidly increasing need and demand for healthcare services. However recent allotment of fund in some projects like TB eradication, PPP model is raising hope amidst concerns.

On your planned budgetary allocation for the fiscal year 2020-21
The company has already spent crores to achieve high level of automation in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) enabled robotic track, fully automated, high throughput hematology and biochemistry analyzers in last financial year. Further expansions by opening new centers are also on cards.

On your vision for health and family welfare
Healthcare sector should uninterruptedly serve people for 24*7 be it natural disasters, war or pandemic. Considering India’s huge population which belong to different socioeconomic status, health and family welfare related services should be more accessible, affordable and uniformly available to each and every one of us. Improving accuracy in diagnosis and treatment, remote treatment facility and enhanced use of technologies like automation, robotics and artificial intelligence to augment human abilities are the need of hour.

Healthcare no doubt, is one of India’s largest sectors both in terms of revenue and employment however 2020 has proved to be a tough year due to COVID-19 pandemic. The overall business for both organized and unorganized sectors has been significantly affected due to lockdown and ongoing pandemic. The greatest challenge was to ensure continuous operation without compromising the safety of staffs. We had kept our centers open during this entire lockdown period to cater to urgent samples in spite of bearing huge overhead costs. Arrangement for conveyance and PPE for staffs on duty has turned into a recurring expense. In spite of all the hardship, we remained in constant touch with our patients and customers even digitally and sent the message that; we are with you even during this crisis period.

On monitoring the quality of private healthcare
Once you bring quality at your doorstep, you understand the benefit of it. Hence raising awareness of quality, sensitizing the unorganized, fragmented healthcare facilities (HCF) to follow basic quality norms, regulation and standardization should be the foremost agenda of Government and health department.

Accreditation can play a major role here. Accreditation bodies and government authorized agencies should come forward to arrange for regular CMEs, symposiums so that, the owners of private healthcare facilities understand the competitive advantage that accreditation confers and also the potential cost savings that HCFs can achieve through continuous quality improvement. Once the basic quality practices are ensured, organizations should be encouraged to achieve the next level of quality standards for further improvement.

On public private partnership in making healthcare a success
As I said earlier, reaching the mass is a challenge for Indian health sector due to country’s huge population. If we consider rural areas and remote places which are relatively far from metro cities or towns, there are lots of scopes for improvement. Practically, it is not possible for government alone to have infrastructure everywhere. On the other hand, the organized private players are concentrated mostly in urban areas. Hence to ensure availability of adequate and timely health care service, PPP model has a great role to play in India. Moreover in our country, as the larger section of society is still availing healthcare service from government entities, only PPP model can ensure best quality service and advanced technological benefits for maximum population in a nominal cost. PPP in appropriately selected segments may actually be the role model in India to materialize the dream for Health for all.

On areas where government should invest to make healthcare available to everyone
Setting up more laboratories and hospitals in rural and remote areas, digital pathology, telemedicine, point of care devices (bed side testing), mobile health care applications, better availability of government authorized healthcare training and lab technician training courses, promoting for basic quality norms and importance of accreditation. Moreover government should invest more in healthcare product manufacturing units so that the country can be self-sufficient especially in life saving medical devices and equipment.

On policies interventions that the healthcare sector in the state needs to align with the healthcare objectives at large at the national level
All states should consider opting for and adopting Clinical Establishment (Registration and Regulation) Act 2010. A separate advisory committee which should mandatorily include reputed healthcare professionals representing different states is intended for policy making and its thorough implementation. The body should be autonomous, apolitical which may consider doing quarterly audits of different states to understand the progress of ongoing policies in respect to healthcare.

Anything else you would like to add
With the changing dynamics in healthcare market, COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us the importance of this sector once again. The sector has definitely raised to the occasion and grabbed the spotlight that one couldn’t even imagine ever before. The values of robust infrastructure, availability of best quality hospitals and laboratories even in semi urban and rural areas, importance of highly trained healthcare workers (HCW) and self-sufficiency in manufacturing life-saving medical equipment and devices have been proved at every point. All of us can hope for a better budget allocation in healthcare in coming days and so for a better tomorrow.

Another aspect I would like to say that, like everything COVID-19 pandemic will also not be a permanent situation and is certainly going to pass away today or tomorrow. However we should not forget about the COVID warriors who lost their lives in this battle to safeguard us. They are no way lesser than the soldiers protecting our country’s borders. The policy makers of our country should immediately think over appropriate life insurance, medical benefit and pension schemes for all HCWs and support staffs irrespective of public or private sectors who have proved themselves to be the real heroes of our country in this trying time.

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