Huzaifa Shehabi, COO, Saifee Hospital, Mumbai

Healthcare in the Indian market has progressed and improved drastically over the decades and is slowly catching up with the global market. Basic testing and screening is much easier today than before, with faster and more accurate results. Most tests are automated, hence little scope for error. Healthcare in general has become more affordable too, with people investing in preventive healthcare. In fact, major cities in South India have become the preferred centers' of medical tourism. Indian hospitals and related medical facilities are being able to provide international standard quality treatment at much lower cost. There has also been a rise in the reverse brain-drain phenomenon with internationally experienced doctors taking up permanent positions in India. This being said, while our healthcare infrastructure has advanced, the average level of health of Indians still remains poor. The gaping hole in our healthcare industry is the lack of medical insurance and covers, which restricts the reach of the technology. 

• Your thoughts on budgetary allocation in healthcare?

Although the last three decades have been economically progressive for India, there has been no improvement seen in the health status of the country’s population. According to the estimates stated by the World Bank, around USD 60 is spent on the per capita of healthcare in India. And this has been the case for over a decade now. The sum is too small in comparison to the estimates from other countries like China and Brazil, let alone the most developed nations, where the disparity between them and us is tremendous. If you go to see the budgetary allocation from the government this year, there has been an increase for the healthcare sector by 23%, compared to the previous year. But after being in this industry for so many years now, I’ve only come to realize that these figures are deceptive when you see the broader picture. Looking at the real expenditure made by the government on healthcare since the past many years statistically, you will notice that the spending had increased only marginally until 3 years ago, and since then it has been consistently decreasing. Given that the health of a nation should be the top-most priority for the government in-order to ensure a faster development, changes in the persisting patterns of healthcare, sanitation, water resources and education should be made now, more than ever.  

• Today, there are over 20 international healthcare brands in India with several corporate hospitals. However, a large section of the ‘private healthcare delivery segment’ is scattered and quality of medical care continues to remain a matter of concern. What is your perspective on monitoring the quality of private healthcare?

There is no denying the fact that corporate private players have improved the quality of healthcare in the country. A number of post-hospital care or home health care service providers have successfully established themselves in the market. Today, most government owned facilities are also trying to adopt similar practices and upping their standards of care. What does remain a cause of concern though are not essentially private players, but the stand-alone practices. A private chain of hospitals or other medical service providers, whether international or local, will have a number of guidelines in place to keep the quality in check. The same cannot be said for an independent practice or establishment with no affiliations to a bigger brand or the government. In this sense, the healthcare sector needs to be regulated with strict quality checks which will ensure the same kind of services are provided by hospitals. 

• How important is a Public Private Partnership in making healthcare a success?

There is a major scarcity of Private Hospitals in the rural areas of our country. The government should encourage the Private Hospitals present in Metro cities to come together to provide the same kind of services with subsidized rates to the rural population thus leading to an increase in Public Private Partnership. The government should join hands with the Private Medical Colleges to give the same access in terms of education and facilities to all students including government medical colleges. 

• What is your vision for Health and Family Welfare? What were the challenges you faced while implementing health services?

Indian healthcare technology is inching slowly and gradually towards progressive healthcare treatment. Preventive Healthcare is more prevalent amongst today's generation and hence overall healthcare is now more affordable. This being said, my vision is ultimately world-class healthcare, which should be available to the common man at affordable cost.

• Where government should invest to make healthcare available to everyone on the go?

There are several sectors where our government could invest to improve the healthcare sector in India. As per World Health Organisation report of 2015 India only spends 1.3 percent of its national GDP towards healthcare goods and services which is too less as compared to the 17.8 percent of the US. 70 percent of the population of our country still lives in a rural area and they are completely dependent on the health policies and regulations that our government provides. Also a very small percentage of people have access to hygienic lifestyle, due to which large number people are suffering with lack of basic health care and are susceptible to diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis, HIV and Diarrhoea. To improve our infrastructure issue we need improved diagnostic procedures, more rural clinics, and developing streamlined health IT systems like telemedicine facilities or simple mobile-based applications to reach out to experienced doctors for a virtual consultation in times of emergencies.

• What are the policy interventions that the healthcare sector in the state needs to align with the healthcare objectives at large at the national level?

The National Health Policy, 2017 was helpful for everyone to move towards the wellness by proving free medicines and assured healthcare services. The agenda of this policy is to achieve quality healthcare, attention of universal healthcare, making healthcare digital and many more. It will more focus on Private Sector to promote quality of healthcare at affordable prices. Hence I believe each state needs to shift major focus on preventive healthcare.

• Anything else you would like to tell us?

The expansion program, which is planned, is towards establishing more quality indicators and trying to achieve more performance on these indicators.  Establishing a wide spectrum of quality in itself is an expansion program.


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