New technologies in healthcare: how they can help us to fill the workforce gap?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Rawshan Saiyara Nawal, a Bangladeshi undergraduate medical student, now in her 3rd year at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College under University of Dhaka. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

IBM describes “Healthcare technology is any technology, including medical devices, IT systems, algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud and blockchain, designed to support healthcare organizations.” Merriam Webster also defines workforce as, “the workers engaged in a specific activity or enterprise”. And here, in a general sense, the gap is referred to as the gap of supply and demand of the workforce in the healthcare sector.

The World Health Organization – WHO recommended doctor to population ratio of 1:1,000. The number of doctors in Bangladesh, the UK, the USA and other 33 developed countries were 0.5, 2.8, 2.77 and 3 respectively, for every 1000 people, according to WHO and other estimates during 2010 to 2020. Thus there is a huge workforce gap considering the numbers of doctors in the healthcare sector in the developing countries, like Bangladesh. The data of other healthcare personnel implies almost the same workforce gap.

Remarkable improvements in information technology have the prospective to transform healthcare service delivery to a new height. The healthcare people and their service have become at the focus by taking personal risks to help contain the spread of COVID-19, and new technologies, such as telemedicine, have been extensively used. Now-a-days, diagnosis of patients has improved. Organ transplantation became usual. Robotic services in healthcare are being improved. But a crucial question is how such improvement will affect the healthcare workforce in the future. And, the answer is not the same for developed countries and the rest of the world.

Integrated knowledge-based economy is changing the world rapidly. In the journey towards the 4th industrial revolution, a paradigm shift is expected in the global healthcare sector. In the developed world there is a workforce gap due to demographic imbalance – having more dependent persons against capable persons. It affects its healthcare also. On the other hand, the scenario is completely opposite in some developing countries, like Bangladesh. Bangladesh is enjoying the demographic dividend structurally. But yet there is a workforce gap in the healthcare sector due to less investment in healthcare – in aspects of service, establishment and medical education. The situation is worse in the least developed countries.

According to the National Health Expenditure Accounts, USA, GDP expenditure in healthcare is nearly 18% now. On the contrary, it was less than 1% in Bangladesh’s FY21 budget and (A case for building a stronger health care system in Bangladesh, by MD RAFI HOSSAIN AND SHAKIL AHMED, 2020, published on End Poverty in South Asia and in the World Bank website blogs).

Thus, new or latest technologies may be viable in the developed world to the fullest extent, where there is workforce shortage. But too much dependency on new technology, as a substitute of educated, trained and skilled workforce would not be sustainable to meet up the workforce gap in the developing and least developed countries. Rather, some extent of dependency on new technologies and simultaneously incremental investment in excelling the healthcare people, service and establishment would be more sustainable for them.

About the author

Rawshan Saiyara Nawal is a Bangladeshi undergraduate medical student, now in her 3rd year at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College under University of Dhaka. She is the Local Officer of the Standing Committee on Professional Exchange (SCOPE). Nawal showed outstanding performance in academic and extra-curricular activities. She attained merit scholarships in all the public exams. She also received best performance awards in district and divisional levels in cultural, writing and debating competitions. Servicing humanity is her goal. Thus she is involved in students’ humanitarian activities.

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