Asia’s Unique Healthcare Challenge

The skills that the next generation of leaders need in a region where “healthcare reform” affects billions of people. A new Korn Ferry report.

In the United States, the bitter battle over healthcare reform is measured by the millions, as in the number of people covered or not covered. But come to Asia and it’s a whole different scope—with hundreds of millions affected.

According to a new Korn Ferry report, sweeping reform throughout the entire region of Asia is changing the face of care for an enormous population group. But it’s also creating an issue: finding both enough and the right type of medical professionals to lead the change. Indeed, the report found that, on average, there are only 1.3 doctors and 3.2 nurses for every 1,000 people in Asia.

“Hospitals will need to develop a new eye to look for skill sets that may not have mattered as much before the reforms—skills like agility, relationship building, and strategic vision,” says Ling Li, vice chairman for Korn Ferry’s Life Sciences Asia Pacific practice and co-author of the new report, “Transforming healthcare in Asia.”

The authors interviewed 40 healthcare executives across seven countries in Asia. While each nation has its own specific circumstances, leaders in every country said it’s difficult to find talent agile enough to successfully navigate the industry’s tremendous growth and sweeping changes simultaneously. According to the report, leaders should have, among other traits, the ability to adapt in a quickly changing environment, build consensus, and demonstrate technical (not just managerial) expertise.

Several issues exacerbate the manpower problem. In Indonesia, for instance, red tape protects employment of local talent, a detriment to hospitals that hope to solve understaffing by hiring foreigners. Even Indonesian doctors who studied abroad have to take an exam and additional courses, which can take up to four years, before they are eligible to practice in Indonesia.

Some healthcare organizations have been hiring outside of the hospital industry to fill the leadership ranks. To handle improving the level of care, one healthcare group brought on a medical professional who also knew the ins and outs of local regulations. Then, for the CEO job, it found an expert in delivering high-quality service—a hotel executive with years of experience in Asia.

The agile healthcare leaders already in place have come up with some innovative ways to deliver a better healthcare experience. In India, for instance, one hospital has trained its paramedics to drive well-equipped motorcycles, rather than large ambulances, to better navigate difficult Delhi traffic and reach patients faster. In Korea, one non-profit hospital is recruiting academic medical professionals to both conduct research and examine patients. The new recruits get access to the hospital’s resources while the hospital gets to use the processes or technology that the recruits create.

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