Taiwan is taking measures to confront a shortage of obstetricians as fewer medical students enter the field, the Department of Health said at a legislative hearing yesterday, but critics suggested not enough is being done.
Steps have been taken to improve the work conditions of obstetricians and gynecologists (ob-gyn) to make the job more attractive, Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) told a hearing held by the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee.
There are currently 2,394 practicing ob-gyns in Taiwan. Although the number has grown 16 percent in the past decade, the rate is lower than the 54 percent growth in pediatricians and 30 percent growth in surgeons, according to statistics.
“The lower level of interest has mainly to do with medical disputes and the payment system,” Chiu said, citing findings from a seminar held in February to address Taiwan’s medical brain drain.
Taiwan’s ob-gyns are particularly vulnerable to medical malpractice claims and they have long complained of low fee scales for -services provided under the National Health Insurance system.
Chiu said both of the issues are being addressed.
A three-year trial program has been introduced to help hospitals and patients reach out-of-court settlements when medical disputes related to childbirth or reproduction occur.
Individuals involved in such cases can apply for maximum compensation of NT$2 million (US$67,624).
Clinical examination fees for ob-gyns, pediatricians and surgeons were also increased by 17 percent at the beginning of the year, Chiu said.
Shih Jin-chung (施景中), an ob-gyn at National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH), warned of a potential “collapse” of Taiwan’s obstetrics and gynecology departments.
Compared with about 100 ob-gyns entering the workforce annually about 20 years ago, Shih said only about 20 to 30 new ob-gyns enter the profession per year today. The supply cannot match the demand for ob-gyn services among women living in remote areas.
About 43 percent of Taiwan’s 211 townships and districts, many of them in rural areas, do not have any access to ob-gyns, according to statistics from the Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“I suggest we import obstetricians from the Philippines,” NTUH obstetrician Hsieh Fong-jou (謝豐舟) said.
It may be the best solution because the government would pay a fixed salary and leave the foreign doctor to deal with the risk of being sued by patients, he said.