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JLF 2016: How bureaucracy is making Indian doctors leave the system

That the public is increasingly getting angry and restive about India’s frail health system was evident from the number of questions -- rather statements of helplessness in the face of the increasing corporatization of the sector -- that came up after the session on the ideas of wellbeing at the Jaipur Literature Fest on Friday.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 Updated: Jan 23, 2016 14:27 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
Left to right: Scientist, writer, broadcaster Aarathi Prasad,Scottish physician and writer Gavin Francis and surgeon, public health researcher, and author Atul Gawande.
Left to right: Scientist, writer, broadcaster Aarathi Prasad,Scottish physician and writer Gavin Francis and surgeon, public health researcher, and author Atul Gawande.(Twitter)

That the public is increasingly getting angry and restive about India’s frail health system was evident from the number of questions -- rather statements of helplessness in the face of the increasing corporatization of the sector -- that came up after the session on the ideas of wellbeing at the Jaipur Literature Fest on Friday.

On stage was surgeon, public health researcher, and author Atul Gawande, Scottish physician and writer Gavin Francis, and scientist, writer, broadcaster Aarathi Prasad.

Read: India’s medical pluralism has huge potential

Speaking on differences between eastern and western methods of healing, Francis said bluntly: “Western medicine has been very successful but has lulled us into a sense of security. But it is a misconception that ill-health can be tackled by a protocol because each illness has many other underlying reasons. Mind and body are not separate and the western system, unlike the eastern one, refuses to acknowledge this”.

“There is often a mismatch between the patient’s goals and the medical goals. Often, wellbeing can be your goal but doctors fail to understand that and this is the source of rising costs,” said Gawande, who also spoke at length about what’s wrong in the Indian public health system.

“While in the US we are mandated to give 10 minutes to each patient, studies have shown that in India doctors in the State-run institutions spend about 2-3 minutes and tend to give two-three medicines, many of which don’t work.” This lack of empathy and time, Gawande added, pushes patients toward private clinics. “People want medicine but also a caring attitude”.

Read: 60% readers disagree with Nobel winner’s view on homeopathy

Prasad said that her studies showed that the increasing costs of medical studies and low salaries are pushing doctors to move out of the system.

Gawande, however, believes that doctors are leaving the system because they are frustrated with the bureaucracy and the lack of infrastructure. “This is not India’s problem only. It is happening world over,” he said adding that patients are defenceless against the corporatization of the medical system. “There has to be professional regulation and the aspect of corruption needs to be the target of journalism,” he said.

For more JLF 2016 stories click here.