Out of all human necessities, you could say access to healthcare is a human right. And quite rightfully so. After all, we all have the right to live. However, such philosophical inferences are rarely applicable in reality. While some countries boast free healthcare for their citizens, some need to pay mercilessly for even the most minute treatment. Eventually, effective healthcare boils down to one significant factor – money.
If we consider India as our focal point of conversation, we can’t brag about free healthcare. While welfare programmes like Ayushmann Bharat contribute towards this utopian goal, access is not absolute. And amidst all that ruckus, submerged in the shadow of dismissiveness is physiotherapy.
For a population which has a considerable number struggling with major amenities, care like physiotherapy seems unfathomable. In such cases, people would rather live the rest of their lives in discomfort than empty their bank balances to be normal. In fact, the penetration of health insurance in India is incredibly low at around 27%, with around 60-70% of Indians paying from their pocket as of 2021!
This isn’t just about the lowest rung of earners in our country. This pain is felt (quite literally) by the middle class as well, who are affected due to migration to a more sedentary lifestyle. An average physio session in India costs about Rs.1500, with multiple sessions needed over a typical course of 6 months. Even a bimonthly treatment session plan would amount to Rs.18000! No wonder Indian clinics complain about patient adherence issues!
Perhaps if one saw statistics like the government spending only 1.29% of its GDP on healthcare, you wouldn’t be surprised about today’s state. Out of that portion, physiotherapy barely gets a drop, which makes sense considering India’s pharmaceutical requirements far outweighs the rest. But only 0.04% vs 35.4%?
That’s just disturbing.
Adjusting the medical inflation of about 10% in 2022, it’s left to be seen as to how well physiotherapy on its own does to reduce its costs. Factoring in the lack of physiotherapy institutions and quality research, high import costs of basic diagnostic equipment, a distributional mismatch of rural and urban physiotherapists and the prolonged underwhelming support and recognition of the Indian government, we’d say there is a lot to be done.
But hold up, not everything is so discouraging!
If we examine a few factors, we can see that some solutions can knock multiple targets with just one arrow! It’s a known fact that a lot of research occurs in medical institutions. While it’ll require serious capital, setting up more physiotherapy institutions will not only remove industry deficiencies, but also contribute to meaningful research to keep up with newer, relevant techniques!
Another important factor is domestic equipment manufacturing, which can be done by encouraging and investing in Indian health tech startups. From creating jobs to reducing dependence on imports, it would change India’s perspective on healthcare and set up for future investments.
While such plans seem to be both the short and long term fixes for this situation, progress in the right direction involves a lot of monetary investment, something that seems to be scarce at the moment.
And till this issue isn’t systematically resolved and a concrete roadmap not devised and brought to life, it would seem that Indian physiotherapy’s sorry state of unaffordability will continue to worsen.
- National Health Profile (NHP) 2021, Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India
- National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) – Key Indicators of Social Consumption in India: Health
- Aon India, ‘Medical Cost Trend: Behind the Numbers 2022’