International Update

After Court Decision, India Faces Shortage of Lab Professionals

Supreme Court of India limits professionals who can sign out clinical laboratory reports

THERE IS ALREADY A SHORTAGE of competent professionals available to sign off on medical laboratory reports in India. Now a recent Supreme Court decision may exacerbate this problem.

On Jan. 11, the Hindu Business Line, a newspaper, reported that medical labs across India could face a significant shortage of competent professionals to sign lab reports after a recent Supreme Court decision, according to girdhar gyani, Director general with the Association of Healthcare Providers (India).

“His concern arises from a recent Supreme Court directive that allows only medical practitioners with a postgraduate qualification in pathology to countersign a medical lab report, a view held by the Medical Council of India (MCI),” the Business Line reported. Note that in India, the term “pathology” refers to the clinical laboratory.

The court’s decision had the effect of reducing the number of people who can sign lab reports from 36,000 to 5,500, gyani told Business Line. There was concern that such staff shortages would loom over the 300,000 clinical labs in India. “Patient safety can be hit,” gyani warned.

Business Line explained that, before the court decision, professionals who reviewed and signed lab reports were MD pathology, MD microbiology, MD biochemistry, MSc or PhD in microbiology and biochemistry. This protocol changed in June when the MCI debarred those having an MSc or PhD in biochemistry and microbiology from signing test reports. After pathology lab professionals challenged the order in court, the case went to the Supreme Court. Last month, the Supreme Court endorsed the MCI’s position, Gyani told Business Line.

Assessing MScs and PhDs

“Those with an MSc and PhD qualification are no less competent than any doctor as they already have an analytical bent of mind and are part of the teaching staff,” gyani explains. In addition, these professionals were not seeing or treating patients.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) weighed in on the controversy, saying that basic lab reports can be counter-signed only by registered medical practitioners and advanced lab reports by a registered medical practitioner with a post-graduate qualification in pathology, Business Line reported.

“Lab reports need interpretation with clinical findings and previous reports and these reports are often a decision maker in clinical treatment and hence require signature of at least an MBBS doctor. Any report without an interpretation may be incomplete,” the IMA said.

India already has a shortage of doctors across the country, gyani commented. given the relatively small number of available qualified doctors versus the much larger number of clinical labs, the doctors will be overworked, he said.

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