January 29, 2008

Shortage of doctors spells crisis

The growth plans of corporate healthcare players are going to be affected by the absence of adequate medical professionals.

Comparing apples and oranges might seem odd, but the fact remains that airline pilots and medical doctors are increasingly posing a common problem, caused due their acute shortage, to the respective industries.

While the shortage of pilots in the airline industry is already visible, the shortage of doctors is a feared to be ticking time bomb within the corporate healthcare sector.

“The way the Indian healthcare industry is growing, we are bound to see this happen. The healthcare sector is heading towards a huge shortage of not just doctors but also para-medical staff and nurses,” says YP Bhatia, managing director, Astrol Hospital and Healthcare Consultants (P) Ltd.

Drawing parallels between the airline industry and the healthcare sector, Bhatia feels that the sheer size of the healthcare industry could aggravate the problem.

Recent estimates by global consultancy firm Ernst & Young predicts an addition of one million hospital beds in the country by 2012. The bulk of the capacity additions, over 80 per cent, are to come from the private sector.

No wonder, the growth plans of corporate healthcare players are going to be affected by the absence of adequate medical professionals.

“There is an absolute shortage of doctors. This was never the case three to four years ago. The crisis is more evident at the junior level,” says Dharmender Nagar, managing director, Paras Hospitals.

According to Nagar, the crisis is severe in the smaller towns than the metros due to the absence of adequate inflow of junior doctors.

“With corporate hospitals identifying smaller cities as the next growth destination, the shortage of doctors is going to be a problem for all hospital chains in the coming years,” he predicts.

While healthcare analysts put the current country-wide demand-supply gap for doctors between 200,000 and 300,000, E&Y estimates says that the country will need at least 1.2 million doctors (as against 600,000 in 2005) to treat one in thousand population by 2012. Considering the fact that 22,000 doctors are added each year, E&Y estimates the gap (shortage of doctors) to touch 453,785 by 2012.

“The doctors’ availability will be a factor while corporate hospitals plan their expansion programmes. We remain unscathed as Gurgaon remains an attractive destination for doctors,” Nagar says.

While there are no short-term solutions to the problem, the value-added services offered by hospitals might attract more doctors to such organisations, Bhatiya says: “Our hospitals should have in-house training programmes for junior doctors. All entry-level people today need on-job training and the hospitals should develop such facilities,” he opines.

Artemis Hospitals, the healthcare venture of the Apollo Tyres group, is probably taking this path to attract doctors. “Our hospital is fully functional and we have sufficient doctors. The advantage with Artemis is its multi-focus on research, education, healthcare delivery and manufacture of health consumables. The doctors can pursue their research interests by joining us,” explains Asoka Iyer, director, Artemis Health Sciences Pvt Ltd.

However, Bhatia fears that the scarcity of human resources in healthcare industry might compel healthcare providers to compromise on both quality and quantity. “If that should not happen, hospitals should have a very serious manpower plan in place,” he adds.

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