Skilling of Pathology lab professionals in India
Bridging the skill gap among lab professionals-an important step towards achieving "Health for all"
Often dubbed ‘the hidden profession that saves lives’, lab technologists play a crucial role in the healthcare delivery chain. Patient history along with physical examination and symptoms
are vital, but most diagnosis needs confirmations that laboratory tests only can provide.
With technological advancements, Lab technicians are expected to be up-to-date with the functionalities of the latest sophisticated analyzers, their calibrations and QC checks. Competency in using the Laboratory Information System is another skill that technicians are expected to develop since they are accountable for ensuring consistency of reporting, and streamlining the workflow processes for greater lab efficiency.
Statistics reveals that as of 2012, there were about 4.30 lakh Medical Laboratory Technologists in India working in Govt., Semi Govt., Public and Private Sectors.*. There is an envisioned shortage of around 2.36 lakh medical technologists and more than 60,000 medical laboratory professionals.**
The total skills gap is a whopping 97.9% across various health workforce categories, according to the recent study findings by Public Health Foundation of India for Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Radiography and imaging alone accounts for 88.7% of this gap amounting to a huge shortage of medical laboratory technicians.***
Skill gap analysis
Lab technologists / technicians are expected to be trained in different skill sets to counter the various work challenges such as the advent of newer platforms like molecular testing. Right now, the availability of trained individuals in this field is a limiting factor. With the rapid changes happening in Instrumentation, lab technologists are expected to be well versed with all old and new including highly digital ones.
Another important aspect is the increased demand for quality assurance over the past few years e.g. NABL accreditation or the equivalents. With more and more labs ensuring the implementation of detailed processes and protocols, the onus is on pathologists and technicians to ensure standardization. Thus, competency in quality compliance has become another important skill requirement.
At the macro level, such skill gaps pose huge hurdles to the ambitious ‘Health for All’ program of our country.
Bridging the gap
The collective onus of improving skill gaps is on medical institutions, industry bodies and government agencies.
The first task is to analyze the market demand and then take concerted efforts to bridge this demand-supply gap of skilled workforce.Specialized manpower is required in categories such as Biochemistry and Histopathology (for advanced diagnostics). This challenge is attributed to two major reasons, lack of awareness on the demand for these professions and lack of specialized training courses. Hence there is a pressing need to align the education and training tomeet this demand.Moreover, these professions are relatively less lucrative in terms of salaries and hence less sought after. This needs to change quickly.
Inadequate exposure to technology and thus, inadequate hands-on experience of operating machines too leads to a gap.
On the positive side, a number of training and education centers are being set up by private players to impart skills on how to use new medical technologies.For example, training programs for lab technicians are some of the initiatives which companies have undertaken to bridge this talent gap.
A well-curated curriculum, balanced and job oriented training, hands-on learning, periodic testing and certification, interaction with industry are all essential.
Using technology to bridge this gap is another viable option.As India moves forward in digital empowerment, technicians should be digitally oriented. New apps have been launched to build a secure network for medical professionals to collaborate.
India's healthcare delivery landscape will soon witness a paradigm shift especially in the way services are delivered by its skilled manpower. Bridging the skill gap will help foster newer possibilities for all those engaged in changing the face of this industry. Will immensely benefit the clinicians and patients alike.
Mr. Y.S Prabhakar,