Life Expectancy vs. Physician Density – Can we empower individuals and extend some help to our doctors?

A 2014 study presented in the Journal of Medical Science and Clinical Research has observed – “countries with higher physician population ratios generally have lengthier life expectancies and for countries with lower physician population ratios the inverse is true.”  The study concludes “Physician to population ratios have a significant bearing on life expectancy. This articulates and endorses the view that increasing the number of undergraduate and postgraduate seats available would be beneficial in the long run

While this is an in general accepted view, is that really the answer?  While there is no question that what the researchers found is significant and is the generally accepted view, is that really the answer to the life expectancy (LE) problems this world is facing?

Is healthcare quality of this world truly dependent on the physician density (PD)?  Will increasing the number of hospital beds suddenly help increase our population’s life expectancy? Is the GDP / per capita income the main criteria for life expectancy today?  Does that mean that countries with low GDP will constantly be facing low life expectancy?

I collected some data from LeDuc Media website on World Life Expectancy to further shed some light on this matter.

Japan whose life expectancy is ranked number 1 (83.7 years) is ranked 60th in physician density (23 doctors per 10,000), whereas Qatar ranked number 1 in physician density (79.4 physicians per 10,000) has a life expectancy ranking of 34 (79.4 years).  Probably an outlier, Turkmenistan ranked number 9 in physician density (41.8 physicians per 10,000) is ranked 153 in life expectancy (63.6 years).

These numbers indeed invoke questions and doubts on how the global life expectancy issues can really be solved.

The GDP of a country probably has a good correlation with respect to life expectancy, but even there, further analysis will raise eyebrows.  I will shed some light in that area in one of my future blogs.  But for now how can we really increase life expectancy other than throwing money at the problem?  Is there a better or a more efficient way?

The answer lies in the fact that today more than 70% of hospitalizations and premature deaths are happening due to non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs).  It’s a global epidemic!  It is possible to eradicate NCDs diseases, but in most cases we have to get to NCDs before it gets to us.  Once contracted, in most cases, it cannot be reversed.  In countries which means you can stave off premature deaths through medicines and lifestyle changes, but that is not the option available to all.

However, today, nothing is stopping us in providing the health professionals the tools that they can use to effectively help individuals stave off NCDs.  It also about empowering individuals with specific guidance and education.

The tools should not only calculate the individual’s future risks for NCDs, but they should also evaluate individual’s present data, past information and other factors like lifestyle, food habits, exercise habits, family medical history, mental health and stress, etc. and then provide intelligent decisions for the health professionals and the individuals to consume.  So now the health professionals (physicians, nutritionists, etc.) can advise 10 additional subjects, more accurately in the same time it took to advise and empower one.

The life expectancy in the US is 78.8 years and the same in India is 66.4 years.  Physician density for the US is 24.5 and the same for India is 7.  To increase life expectancy, India does not need more hospital beds or more physicians – the need of the hour is chronic disease prediction / prevention and super-efficient physicians aided by data, precise analytics, and intelligent systems.  The solution may sound very simplistic, but to me this is a no brainer!

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Subhasish Sircar

Subhasish is Founder and CEO at Health Vectors.

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