India has nearly 3 million patients suffering from cancer. To treat them, we have about 1500 trained oncologists with an average of 1 oncologist for every 2000 patients. Now let’s project that out over the next 6 years to 2020: We add 1 million new cases of cancer every year and only 100 new and trained oncologists, so in 2020, we can expect to have 1 trained oncologist for every 4200 patients.
This scenario plays out in multiple diseases in India. By 2025, a fifth of the country (close to 300 million people) will suffer from at least one chronic disease and in some cases multiple chronic diseases.
It’s not uncommon for a diabetic patient to be hypertensive or for a cancer patient to also be suffering from depression. Whether it is diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer or mental health, we are faced with a shortage of trained health care resources that is going from serious to critical.
So how does this impact you?
If you are reading this blog, you are most likely one of India’s 300 million people living in cities. Over the next decade, as you get older, you will likely be responsible for managing chronic diseases for your parents (they are living longer and more likely to be diagnosed than your grandparents), your spouse and yourself, if not other dependents in the family.
We have good medicines and more money to spend on healthcare than a generation back, which means we expect to be able to buy our treatments and health. The only problem is you are not going to have enough doctors to take care of you and give you the solutions you need.
The problem will begin (if you haven’t experienced it already) with finding it difficult to get an appointment with a doctor, the doctor spending inadequate time, feeling rushed through a consultation and feeling like the doctor is not communicating with you.
Despite the money you are ready to spend, you won’t feel a personal touch or a feeling of being cared for in your treatment. The consultations and blood tests will get more expensive every 6 months. The cost of healthcare will rise rapidly (it has grown at twice the GDP in the US in the last 30 years) and only the most affluent will be able to buy the time and attention of their healthcare providers.
Doctors may be an easy punching bag (they are more visible than the systemic problems) but really are not to blame – there’s just not enough of them! Several studies have shown that continuous, sustained monitoring and consultation is critical to manage your chronic disease. You are much less likely to get this than your parents!
This is not a doomsday scenario but a realistic projection of where healthcare is headed over the next decade for the average Indian. Despite the government’s best efforts at training more doctors and healthcare workers, we will never keep pace with the resources required to manage the health of all Indians- at least not in our lifetime!
Technology enthusiasts spout the role of technology in providing healthcare. They are partly correct – technology is key, but only to provide the tools for healthcare delivery. Unlike other industries, even though automation of healthcare is possible, it is not desirable.
You don’t want to be treating your cancer with a robot, even if it provides the best medical advice. Technology has to be an enabler to providing doctors with resources to diagnose, treat and manage patients better.