What are the first pictures that cloud your mind when you think of this? Some common answers include visualizing overcrowded government hospitals, luxurious looking surgeries in private hospitals and even purchasing medicines from local pharmacies.
But even in the most remote corner of your racing mind, did you imagine physiotherapy? You, like almost everyone else, did not.
As any healthcare professional would tell you, physiotherapy is one of the most overlooked industries within Indian healthcare. Nowhere close to being mainstream, many people fail to comprehend the sheer size of its demand in today’s time. Burdened by a population of 1.4B people, India has only 1.6 physiotherapy facilities per 1L people. That means to effectively address the current industry demands, you need 50,000 more physiotherapists – about 60% of India’s current number!
But why are these numbers so high?
From changing modern desk-bound lifestyles with static jobs to an aging population where Musculo-skeletal issues are more prominent, people are bound to need more physios to address their physical concerns. This also involves new-generation athletes and fitness enthusiasts who seek frequent rehabilitation services.
Unfortunately, physiotherapists are not like engineers mass produced in India! Our country today has just over 400 government recognised physiotherapy colleges, most concentrated in urban regions. And with low government incentives and limited career growth prospects, it’s not surprising that India is struggling to find new physios. Out of the 12,000 graduates we produce annually, only 15% of them end up working for the government!
Another disparity is the rural-urban conflict. Since most physios study in urban areas and are more likely to work in the private healthcare sector, there is a huge gap in demographic service numbers. As per the Rural Health Statistic report, there exists one physio for every 5,136 people in urban areas, compared to the overwhelming number of one physio for every 37,061 people in rural areas!
What does this mean in terms of consequences?
Not only are current physiotherapists overburdened with long work hours and added physical and mental stress, there is a huge influx of the rural populace into urban regions to address their issues. With such dramatic numbers, it also means that specialized or customized care is either extremely rare or highly expensive. When patients don’t get the treatment they need and deserve, the healthcare system falls apart.
Now that we’ve discussed the causes and consequences,
What are the next steps to be taken?
Rather unsurprisingly, the solutions seem simple yet hard to work through. India needs way more physiotherapy institutes that also focus on voluntary rural placements. Since most graduates wouldn’t prefer that, the least that can be done is make sure their workplaces are well-built and maintained. Secondly, the more effective solution would be to create several public-private partnerships which facilitates skill training and innovation in equipment. This would lead to a steady investment into physiotherapy and create new avenues for careers in this field, demonstrating greater government involvement and healthcare innovation!
While the supply is nowhere near meeting its demands, India can make up for its deficit really fast. However, looking at the rising numbers in ailments and the poor growth in numbers, these measures and more need to come alive as soon as possible. So next time you picture Indian healthcare, spare a thought for physiotherapy!