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The future of India’s healthcare depends on building human capital

The PM-JAY initiative has come as a welcome measure to improve access to public health in India. And the promise to deliver quality public healthcare at a scale will only further increase the unmet demand for trained health personnel.

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Meanwhile, the report also highlights that close to 53% of the men who underwent preemptive circumcision are in the age group of 26-35 year. (File)

By Pavan Mocherla

It was around this time last year that the Government of India allowed final-year MBBS students, as well as BSc and General Nursing and Midwifery (GNM)-qualified nurses, to be deployed for emergency duties. While this was in response to an unprecedented situation and a measure to provide much-needed support for doctors and nurses battling a raging pandemic, it also served as a poignant reminder of the larger human capital crisis in Indian healthcare.

This also comes at a time when we are beginning to catch up with the rest of the world on vital public health indicators. According to estimates, to reach the ideal standards prescribed by the World Health Organization, India needs an additional 3 million beds. And nearly 4 million healthcare professionals (HCPs) – over 1.5 million doctors and 2.4 million nurses.

Looking at it in balance – there is a definite demand for healthcare and allied services and there seems to be some traction on the demand side too with public initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY) and going by the upward trend in private investment in India’s hospital and diagnostics segments. However, while everyone acknowledges the human capital crisis, the action needs to be stepped up.

Outlined below are some suggestions to aid in alleviating the human capital crisis

Encouraging PPP in upskilling and training allied staff

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are an effective way to scale up the supply of trained personnel. However, given the regulatory intricacies and patient safety concerns, ensuring the quality of training is imperative in the medical sector. That is where we can bring together the various skilling initiatives and networks offered by the government and the expertise of private sector companies to offer specialized skills. For instance, private hospitals and KPO companies can offer training to non-medical staff to handle incoming calls and perform backend or administrative tasks, instead of qualified HCPs.

Focusing on telehealth and digital health skills

Telehealth has been around for some time, but it came to the fore during the Covid-19 lockdown and has the potential to be a force multiplier. Focusing on basic level upskilling for HCPs to deliver basic telehealth services allows medical and paramedical staff to do more with their time. And as is often the case, particularly in rural India, it can reduce the stress of long-distance travel for cases that can be consulted remotely.

Building a foundation for medical technology

Another aspect of the human resource crunch in India is the dearth of trained personnel to operate modern medical equipment and technologies. From a medical perspective, diagnostics help reduce the long-term burden of diseases through timely and accurate detection of diseases. However, in addition to updating current medical knowledge, the healthcare workforce of the future will also require technology skills, or even non-medical technologists to perform vital tasks.

Upgrading curricula in medical education

Staying current on medical developments in the field is paramount to serve the best interests of the patients, and to build a world-class healthcare system for the future. One way to address this is by upgrading curricula in healthcare education and by enabling students to access the latest medical practices from across the world.

Augmenting healthcare education capacity

Given the staggering shortfall in both doctors and nurses, we need to dramatically increase, perhaps even double, the capacity of students we can train every year. Besides augmenting the number of qualified HCPs available for service, it will also put market pressure on the supply side. One of the potential outcomes of doing this could be in the form of doctors establishing small practice in rural and underserved pockets across the country.

Ensuring ongoing quality of HCPs

In the patient-facing healthcare industry, the quality of care provided is as much a part of the human capital equation as an individual HCP’s medical knowledge. One way to ensure ongoing quality of HCPs is through a well-designed and regulated mechanism which captures the outcomes of all patient interactions with an HCP. Translating the aggregated feedback of all interactions into a publicly available profile and rating for every HCP would act as an incentive and motivator to keep the standards of service high.

The PM-JAY initiative has come as a welcome measure to improve access to public health in India. And the promise to deliver quality public healthcare at a scale will only further increase the unmet demand for trained health personnel. To truly enable access to and envisage the future of healthcare for the billion-plus Indians, we need a futuristic and collaborative approach toward building human capital in healthcare.

(The author is MD, BD India. Becton Dickinson (BD) is a global med-tech company which operates in India through its wholly-owned subsidiary BD India.The company produces medical devices across healthcare continuum including diagnostics, bioscience, interventional and pharma. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)

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