Pushing and Pulling Indian Physicians

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media , September 2, 2008

A lot has been written about the looming physician shortage that will have global implications. But leaders in India's surging private healthcare industry report an interesting trend: More and more Indian doctors are choosing to practice in their native country.

Even those who have been educated and practiced medicine in the West are deciding to join private healthcare networks or start up their own medical groups back home.

"Over the last two years, we now have almost 28 very senior clinicians who have come back from the U.S. and the U.K. after spending many years over there and almost reaching consultant status in both the U.S. and the U.K. with an average work experience of about 15 to 17 years," says Vishal Bali, CEO of Wockhardt Hospitals Group.

The rise of India's economy and the access to state-of-the-art technology at many of the corporate hospitals there have helped to entice physicians who perhaps a decade ago might seek work visas to developed countries.

But that's only part of the story.

Indian doctors' changing preference isn't just because of the allure of the nation's growth story. Some physicians there say practicing in India actually affords them a better lifestyle as well. These docs say they can practice patient-centered medicine without the burdens of onerous regulations and high cost of operating a practice in the U.S.

When he was a medical student some 20 years ago, Aniruddha Malpani, MD, revered the U.S. medical system. Today, Malpani is an IVF specialist who owns a private clinic in Bombay. "But as time has gone by things have changed, and the reason I feel sorry for U.S. physicians is I feel they got squashed between patients, lawyers, third-party payers, HMOs, and the government; they seem to be on the receiving end for everything."

Malpani, like most physicians, enjoys spending time with his patients practicing medicine, and he says doctors in the States are too stressed out and overburdened. "It seems like a no-win situation to me," he says. "[Physicians] have all the responsibility for providing the care, so they are not allowed to make mistakes, but they have very little authority."

By comparison, Malpani describes India's healthcare industry as being in the midst of a honeymoon period. There's great demand for high-quality physicians, he says, and still physicians there are able to spend time with their patients.

This isn't to suggest that private hospitals in India don't have to compete for the best medical staff members or that the country overall isn't impacted by the global shortage of physicians. But the trend is a good sign for India's healthcare and medical travel industries, because access to well trained and motivated physicians will go a long way to making sure private hospitals there deliver the care and patient experience needed for continued growth.

More on Physician Leadership
I will be facilitating a C-suite peer panel at this year's Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare conference called "New Medical Staff Models for Strategic Growth." In the conversations I've had with the panelists—including Edward Murphy, MD, president and CEO of Carilion Clinic; Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and CEO of Sanford Health; and James Leonard, MD, president and CEO of Carle Foundation Hospital—I expect this will be a lively discussion that covers many of today's hot issues between hospital executives and physician leaders. Visit topleadershipteams.net to find out more about this year's program, which will be held at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Oct. 16-17, 2008.

Rick Johnson is senior online editor of HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at rjohnson@healthleadersmedia.com.
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