Handle with care

Thursday, 18 April 2013 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The healthcare industry is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing industries. Consuming over 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of most developed nations, healthcare can form an enormous part of a country’s economy.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 9.2 million physicians, 19.4 million nurses and midwives, 1.9 million dentists and other dentistry personnel, 2.6 million pharmacists and other pharmaceutical personnel and over 1.3 million community health workers worldwide, making the healthcare industry one of the largest segments of the workforce.

The medical industry is also supported by many professions that do not directly provide healthcare itself, but are part of the management and support of the healthcare system. The incomes of managers and administrators, underwriters and medical malpractice attorneys, marketers, investors and shareholders of for-profit services, all are attributable to healthcare costs. Moreover, medical tourism can also be a significant source of income.

Therefore it is clear that healthcare is an essential part of a country’s economy. Sri Lanka is no different and Health Ministry plans to propose amendments to the private medical institutions registration legislation needs to be handled with care.

According to reports, the amendments are aimed at giving more powers to the Health Minister over private medical institutions in the country, including hospitals. Deputy Health Minister Lalith Dissanayake has said that the Health Minister is unable to take any action against private hospitals when they mislead patients.

He has explained that the Ministry has received complaints about some private hospitals charging for blood given free from the blood bank and about some hospitals charging higher rates from patients than the actual rate. According to Dissanayake, provincial health directors can regulate private medical institutions but have so far failed to do so.

Most people who have availed themselves of private medical care are aware that it is priced higher than the public version. There are many reasons for this, the main ones being efficiency and better care. It is acknowledged that private hospitals do not always measure up to the vision that they project of themselves and given the knotty court system in Sri Lanka, many instances when malpractice suites should be lodged are often swept under the carpet.

However, the public system is rarely better, with drug shortages, wastage, mismanagement and corruption plaguing the sector continuously. The very fact that provincial officials do not regulate private medical businesses even though they have the power to do so shows a strong tilt towards chicanery that cannot be ignored. Despite repeated financial transgressions revealed by the Auditor General running to many millions of rupees, no officials have been legally reprimanded in a significant manner. Drug companies are ‘blacklisted’ from time to time, but this has had no impact on the continuous hurdles facing the public health juggernaut.  So could putting the private medical practice under the already-shadowy Health Ministry really help patients? Any practical person would point out that regulation of the private medical system cannot happen unless the public system puts its own house in order. Until the Health Ministry takes deceive steps to curb corruption and mismanagement as well as reduce red tape ‘regularising,’ the private medical sector will only result in more inconvenience to patients.

Therefore the Health Ministry has to implement a broader program focused on the overall sector if it realistically wants to heal patients.