India must not ‘overmedicalise’ its universal health coverage model

Mar 08 2012, 03:59 IST
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SummaryAs the country embarks on the road to universal health coverage with the Prime Minister’s Office indicating an increase in allocation for healthcare

As the country embarks on the road to universal health coverage with the Prime Minister’s Office indicating an increase in allocation for healthcare, Soma Das takes up the topic with Mark Britnell, chairman, global health practice, KPMG, and former director general of NHS, UK’s publicly funded healthcare systems. Excerpts:

While India is grappling with healthcare at one end of the spectrum to find the right model of service delivery, the US and Europe are struggling at the other end with ensuring sustainability of the models they adopted. Are there lessons to learn from each other?

In terms of healthcare, there are more similarities than differences between the experiences of these two distinct blocs, which I believe are not best captured in east-west or north-south nomenclatures, but in a different way. Slowing economic growth, rapidly ageing population and massive healthcare expenditure define the developed economies , and at a macro level they are suffering from ‘pains of old age’ while the other bloc of emerging economies is characterised by rapidly expanding economies, a burgeoning middle class and less comprehensive healthcare services and can be said to be afflicted by ‘growing pains’. There are of course many ways the two blocs can learn from each other. But the first and foremost lesson from the 150 years of economic journey that industrialised countries have gone through demonstrate that wealth creation is inextricably linked to health creation and India would have to provide comprehensive and universal health insurance coverage to its population if it has to grow. On this specific account, India could learn greatly from others’ experiences.

From the challenges of healthcare models of developed countries, what are the things India must learn not to do?

There are three potential traps that India must avoid

while it goes rightly on the path of universal and comprehensive health coverage. It shouldn’t have an overly dominant medical model. By that, I mean that healthcare professionals such as nurses and pharmacists can play a significant role in the primary healthcare space.

So, you must be careful not to overmedicalise your healthcare and mistake more number of hospitals, more bricks and mortar to mean more healthcare, even though there is no denying at this point that India does need more hospitals. That is because 90% of all healthcare needs can actually be effectively met by prudent primary care delivery. Secondly, given your expertise in the IT and mobile

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