India has 748,757 doctors, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told Rajya Sabha on December 1, 2009. He got it wrong.
The Medical Council of India’s Indian Medical Register (IMR) data that he quoted — which had gone up to 7,58,866 on February 28, 2010 — is a cumulative list of all doctors who registered to practice in India since 1933, including the thousands who’ve died, retired or left India.
After factoring in doctors who are no longer practicing medicine, the actual number falls to an estimated 5.3 lakh — roughly two-thirds of the number the Centre uses to plan its health programmes and expenditure.
“By conservative estimates, one lakh MBBS graduates from India are working overseas, 75,000 have died, 25,000 retired and 10,000 are in non-clinical fields such as forensics, anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry, etc, which brings down the number by 2 lakh,” said MCI president Dr Ketan Desai.
Since the MCI has to rely on state medical councils for retirement and death data, doctors live on IMR pages forever.
Another 20,000 or so doctors have been listed twice because they have registered with more than one state board over the years. “Since each state board sends its own list to the IMR, a few thousand doctors are listed twice,” said Desai.
The MCI began getting a fix on the real number last week by using a software programme to weed out duplicate registrations, going by name, date of birth, year of graduation and name of medical college.
“The real number without the revised duplications will be ready in two weeks,” he said.
Tracking deaths and relocations is a bigger challenge, as the MCI has to rely on families and colleagues to inform them.
“It is mandatory for doctors to register every change of address — whether within the state, country or overseas — with the Delhi Medical Council (DMC), but very few do it. Since I’ve been in office from July 2007, no one has reported a single death,” said DMC secretary Dr Girish Tyagi.
Most developed countries — such as the UK and US — insist on re-registration or revalidation under which licensed doctors are expected to prove their professional development and skills every five years.
“Correct data can be collected if India makes it mandatory for all practicing doctors to re-register ever five years,”
“Re-registration periodically would help but to make it efficient and hassle-free, all state councils should maintain a live electronic register that feeds to a national electronic register,” said Dr Srinath K. Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.