Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Study reveals poor understanding of Human Relations leading to increased job stress in hospitals

In less than a decade the Indian Healthcare Industry has seen unprecedented growth, touted to touch Rs 3,00,000/- crores by 20121 and it is expected to continue growing at a faster pace in the next decade. However, given the manpower availability of just 1 doctor for every 10,000 patients2, the healthcare reach is far below par when compared to other developing countries. The manpower adequacy in rural India is far worse with a majority of doctors practicing in urban areas. For an industry with unlimited growth potential the biggest hurdle seems to be availability of skilled manpower.

A recent study by PeopleEquity HR consulting, covering several leading hospitals operating in the country, seems to suggest that a renewed focus on human resources development and utilization is critical to sustaining growth of hospitals and the industry as a whole. Aimed at gaining a deeper understanding an industry unique in its demands on staff, the study involved interviewing a cross section of senior  doctors from some of the leading hospitals across the country.

Over 50 doctors from mid to large sized hospitals (bed capacity between 100 – 500) were surveyed through questionnaire based telephonic interviews. Of the sample about 88% of doctors  were seasoned administrators, having played a supervisory role or above for at least 10 years, managing team sizes ranging between 10 to 40 individuals.
The survey focused on  
  1. challenges faced by doctors, particularly those involved in administrative roles in hospitals,
  2. the most important soft skills needed by them to perform effectively in their administrative capacities; and
  3. the role played by focused developmental initiatives in building soft skills in doctors.
The findings seemed to suggest that in most hospitals in India, senior doctors are expected to  take on administrative and supervisory roles as an additional responsibility as they progress in their careers. However most often they are exposed to very little, if any, formal training on administrative or people management skills, forcing them to go through a process of trial and error while shaping themselves into administrators and this often takes its toll on the employee morale and well being of the hospital as a whole.

Interestingly, about 98% of the doctors surveyed have rated communication and teaming skills as being the most important skills in a hospital environment, given the amount of coordination required between diverse sets of professionals to deliver seamless service to patients. Also 58% of them have also stated lack of positive interpersonal relationships as being one of the biggest challenges they face each day in their environments. The respondents noted that issues like inter departmental frictions, cross functional miscommunications routinely resulted in delays and errors affecting the quality of patient care, in some cases with serious consequences. Sadly however interdepartmental communication and teaming are mostly taken for granted and very few hospitals take a concerted effort to address this issue.

Similarly while 86% of the sample believed that some form of managerial training is a must for doctors in administrative roles, only 28% have actually received any such training. This has resulted in a huge amount of stress for doctors who are suddenly required to direct people and outcomes in addition to practicing medicine.  Respondents have also noted that traditional classroom training may not quite be very helpful, but rather a personalized and practical developmental approach is what is needed to help doctors prepare themselves better to handle their new responsibilities. 

Another key issue looming over healthcare institutions is that of rising attrition levels in this industry. According to a news report in The Economic Times4, while the IT and ITES sectors saw the highest attrition rate of 23% in the first quarter of 2010-11, healthcare seems to be fast catching up at the number 4 spot. Though the attrition percentage in healthcare is just about half as that of the IT/ ITES industries, given the growth potential and imminent shortage of skilled manpower, the next 5 – 10 years could be very challenging. The industry is already witnessing trends in steep salary hikes with organizations packaging attractive pay and benefits to compete for talent and this is likely to get more aggressive in the coming years.

For management professionals working in the healthcare industry, it is important to acknowledge its uniqueness, the diversity of workforce as well as the criticality of the service offered, frequently handling situations of life and death. What works in other industries might not have much relevance in the typical healthcare set-up, hence Human Resource Development programs have to be well researched and customized to make a real impact.

Training programs on improving communication skills, team bonding, enhancing interpersonal relationships, and time management have come across as the top priority programs for healthcare sector as a whole. A lot of emphasis is certainly needed “Physician Development Program”, akin to Leadership and Mentoring programs practiced in other industries.

External References
  1. India Today, April 2010; Cover Story: Healthcare Boom
  2. New Delhi, 1st March 2009; Speech by Her Excellency The President of India, Shrimati PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL, at the concluding function of the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of the Medical Council of India.
  3. The Economic Times, July 19, 2011; IT, ITES sectors witnessing highest attrition rate in India.