Health costs in India

It is commonly felt that hospitalization is the biggest financial burden that can befall a household. In many cases, poor people are financially crippled by a single hospitalization episode with the costs involved, loss of time at work and other costs( transportation, bribes and so on ) that they have to bear.
However a new study suggests that so called minor illness episodes are more likely to cause an unacceptable burden to poor households in India.
The study in question was published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in April this year.The study has provided information in what is a very poorly researched field.I will summarize some of the principal conclusions. It is often claimed that the poorer parts of our population are sustained by indigenous medical practitioners. If this study is to be believed nothing is further from the truth. Just 3.2 % of the expenditure was made for these systems of medicine. While this may be due to the lower costs of indigenous therapy, the extremely low figures suggest that nobody has mush faith in these systems, no matter what the social scientists in ivory tower institutes have to say.
Two thirds of the costs are direct costs of treatment and fully one third is because of indirect costs. Second, females are the cause of much less spending for health than males. I wish I could say that this is due to their better health, but unfortunately it is simply because women are deprived of health care when resources are scarce.Thirdly, adult illnesses cost more because of their chronic nature in many cases.Hospitalization , when needed is the highest component in costs of health care. But drugs are a close second.If we take the total expenditure, drugs accounted for nearly 50% while hospitalization cost about one tenth of the total.The most shocking finding is that roughly a quarter of the total family expenditure is for health care.
So where can the society intervene to save the poor from this unhealthy situation ( pun intended)?
One obvious thing to do is to reduce drug prices and rationalize the use of drugs. This is something that our country has famously failed to do and now with the mantra of the market taking over is not likely to do. It is left to physicians to rationalize drug usage and to use less costly drugs to make a dent on this part of the expenditure.Hospitalization is the other major cost and this can can be reduced by improving the public health care service so that at least routine illnesses needing hospitalization is dealt with by low cost government services.
There is a crying need for the civil society and particularly doctors' organizations to sensitize their members on these issues. As physicians we must take heed to the needs of the society of which we are a part.If we don't the society will pull us down with it.


y-axis! said…
Thanks for this article.It is disheartening to learn these facts.Since the article talks about the interventions from a medical practitioner's point of view...being a novice i suggest inculcating a certain "respect" for life as such, it holding the same value despite the financial capabilities.Dont go for a medical degree unless your primary aim is to- "treat patients"! A want for money will respect only money and serve only money. I think it needs to start here and get engineered thus.

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