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Is Healthcare a service or commodity-A twilight zone for the industry and all its stakeholders in Bengal

The hue and cry of patients, battle of allegations, mistrust in the relationship between doctors and patients, and apprehensive investors, mark the watershed moment in the history of healthcare industry.The recent seismic waves of mishaps, outbursts along with high cost of healthcare vis-à-vis its quality, lack of healthcare institutions and infrastructure are leading to phenomenal outflux of patients from Bengal.

An inevitable consequence of all these developments was a call for introspection and hashing over disparities to come up with a roadmap that can lead to a process of harmonization. With this objective in mind, Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BNCCI) organised a panel discussion on “The New Horizon of Healthcare Industry in Bengal” this 4th April, 2018. Stalwarts from the industry like Dr. Sandip Chatterjee (Neurosurgeon), Dr. Chanchal Goswami (Oncologist), and Dr. Kunal Sarkar (Thoracic Surgeon) deliberated over the issue to arrive at a synthesis and define a future path.

Moderator of the panel discussion, Dr. Mousumi Ghosh (Founder Director Team Future-Education and Healthcare) raised certain cardinal questions and set the mood of the session. First amongst them was how quality healthcare services can be offered at an affordable cost. Secondly what are the possible avenues of rendering healthcare services to the bottom of the pyramid. Is it through effective policies, Public-Private-Partnerships, technological innovation or groundbreaking research in medicine?

On that note, key concern areas that evolved in this forum for discussion was to gain clarity and direction. These issues need brave acceptance, diligent attention and careful consideration before we embark upon the journey of offsetting the bottlenecks that intercept the growth of healthcare sector in Bengal. Let us outline some of them in this blog.

Lack of clarity in policy:

Dr. Kunal Sarkar presented certain eye-opening statistics before emphasizing on the need of clear and transparent policies. He stated that the Indian healthcare industry is $2.5 trillion economy, $220 billion industry which is twice the size of IT and 7 times bigger than Bollywood. To this prodigious industry, government allocates a paltry sum of 1.8% of the GDP for development. Naturally this has led to a stupendous gap between the industry needs and its resources. No wonder, massive privatization has taken place to bridge the requirements in the industry. As a result, the line between healthcare as a service or a commodity has blurred. Hospitals have grown unsure of their stance and mixing up between profit and profiteering. As Dr. Kunal Sarkar sums up “The greatest disease in our state is the lack of clarity in policies.” To tide over this crisis, the authorities need to decide whether we want extensive privatization, nationalization of healthcare or a marriage of both.

Poor perception of private healthcare

“Quality healthcare comes with a cost. However, private healthcare institutions here do not receive any funding or donation from government or elsewhere”- observed Dr. Chanchal Goswami. He elaborated that currently very few private hospitals are able to afford optimum number of latest technological resources, expert manpower resources with existing investment. Lack of adequate infrastructure and resources is increasing the cost of providing quality healthcare and also frustrating customer expectations. Innovative technology and cutting-edge research can cut down cost in the long run but that also need time and money investment to start with. Moreover, the media is increasing the mistrust and contributing towards the declining public perception about doctors and healthcare providers. The reactive response of public is also driving investors away.

Research initiatives are not highlighted:

Dr. Sandip Chatterjee, the veteran neurosurgeon and author of the book, Bengalis once again highlighted the need for producing ethical and affordable healthcare. In an era when elderly population is growing and giving rise to medical complications,child health issues and mortality rates are rising owing to poor environment,younger generation is getting dependent on drugs – we need to counter these ills with leading-edge research initiatives. in fact, Dr. Chatterjee observed that although India is making commendable headway in innovative research especially in the fields of generic medicine and biotechnology, these research works are not getting sufficient visibility.

Looking Forward –

Chaos precedes cosmos and therefore the veteran medical community unanimously agreed that the recent turmoil in healthcare is a blessing in disguise. Public has become more aware about their health rights and taking steps to get covered by health-insurance. A mood of introspection is looming large in the medical community to gain a better perspective of this situation. Healthcare is discussed in public domain and compelling the top of the pyramid to define clear-cut policies. More meaningful PPP initiatives like bartering of resources and manpower to strengthen healthcare institutions will certainly create a healthier impact on healthcare industry in future.

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