Doctors in India see patients for barely two minutes on average, according to a latest study. One of the reasons behind the short consulting time is the abysmally low doctor-patient ratio. And since the doctor-patient ratio is among the lowest in Jammu and Kashmir, one can well imagine the situation here.
As per the international study, published in the British medical journal BMJ Open, the average consultation length varied widely, from 48 seconds in Bangladesh to 22.5 minutes in Sweden. In 15 countries, representing around half of the world’s population, the appointment lasted less than five minutes. In developed countries, average consultation time seemed to steadily increase to over 20 minutes in the US and to 10 minutes in the UK.
Since the differences between rural and urban, and public and private practices, have not been taken into account in the study, one may assume that the figure of two minutes may largely be the case with government hospitals where the doctors face huge patient rush. The situation may be better in private clinics and hospitals. Besides, the consulting time would also vary from patient to patient, depending on the relative nature and urgency of the health problem.
Notwithstanding the claims of successive governments to revamp the healthcare across the state, the hospitals in Srinagar continue to bear the ever growing burden of patents from different parts of the valley. This is bound to lessen the consultation time while also affecting the efficiency of doctors and subsequently the patient care. The reliance on city hospitals is necessitated by poor infrastructure in the sub-district hospitals and public health centres in rural areas. Besides, even if the infrastructure is in place, doctors dither to work in far off places thereby forcing people to seek treatment in the city.
Take for instance, Lal Ded Hospital. One would have expected the hospital to cater mainly to city and adjoining areas, but it receives huge flow from rural areas. As per the figures cited in news reports some years back, the total number of patients admitted in the OPD section of Lal Ded Hospital was 12058, of which 7697 patients were from the rural areas coming from as far as Banihal and Poonch while only 4361 patients were from the city. Though the maternity facility is available in all district hospitals, Lal Ded Hospital continues to bear their share of patients throughout the year. One can well imagine the crisis triggered by the excess patient burden. No wonder one can often see two patients on a single bed in the hospital.
Other city hospitals, particularly SMHS and SKIMS, also suffer from over-burden. Official figures indicate exponential increase in the patient flow at the two premier hospitals. One cannot expect any major relief for the city hospitals any time soon, given the ever-increasing population and poor state of rural healthcare.
Back to the research study, the researchers argue that little can be achieved in less than five minutes “unless it’s just meant for detection and management of gross disease”. Stating that such brief consultations “amount to little more than triage and the issue of prescriptions”, the researchers point out that it has also been associated with multiple drugs prescribed to a patient, overuse of antibiotics, and poor communication with patients.
The massive rush witnessed by the hospitals tells upon their functioning. While the patients get shorter consultation time, the doctors face heightened risk of burnout. Perhaps many cases of medical negligence may stem from the overwhelming stress experienced by the doctors, often leading to violent altercation between the hospital staff and attendants.
While most of us share the concern of patients, we also need to consider the plight of doctors. With enormous workload, a noble profession has been turned into a burden. The official apathy has only added to the frustration of medicos. While it puts the onus of restoring the healthcare on the medicos, the government just cannot absolve itself of the responsibility. The grueling work schedule has taken toll on the health and social life of the doctors.
Politicians and bureaucrats may never realise the gravity of the problem as they remain oblivious to the agony of patients who unlike them are totally dependent on the locally available healthcare.
The problems caused by the huge patient influx are further compounded by the lack of requisite infrastructure. Increasing bed strength won’t address the problem. The government should focus on strengthening the healthcare at all levels so that the city hospitals don’t have to bear the excess burden. Though the government has taken some steps for upgradation of healthcare, lot more needs to be done to cover the lost ground.