India's actual number of practicing doctors in India is 2 lakhs less than the 7 lakhs it claims to have. That India has 7,48,757 doctors as announced by the Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha on December 1, 2009 is not correct. After factoring in doctors who are not practicing medicine anymore, the actual number of doctors falls to about 5.3 lakhs—only two thirds of the number based on which the Centre plans its healthcare programs and expenditure.
The Medical Council of India's Indian Medical Register (IMR) data that the Union Health Minister quoted is a cumulative list of all doctors who registered to practice in India since 1933. This list includes the thousands who have died, retired or gone abroad. That number stands at 7, 58, 866 as on February 28, 2010.
According to MCI President Dr. Ketan Desai, "By conservative estimates, one lakh MBBS graduates from India are working overseas, 75,000 have died, 25,000 retired and 10,000 are in non-clinical fields such as forensics, anatomy, pharmacology,
biochemistry, etc, which brings down the number by 2 lakh."
MCI has to rely on state medical councils for retirement and death data, and when information is not updated doctors are listed in IMR pages forever. Some twenty thousand doctors are listed twice because the doctors are registered with more than one state board and each state board sends its own list to the MCI.
The MCI is now using a software program to weed out duplicate registrations tracking each doctor's name, date of birth, year of graduation and name of medical college. The actual number without duplications is expected to be ready in two weeks.
Most developed countries like the UK and US insist on doctors' re-registration or revalidation that makes it mandatory for licensed doctors to prove their professional development and skills every five years.
Dr. Desai observed that correct data could be collected if India makes it mandatory for all practicing doctors to re-register every five years.