Since last week, I’m getting a few calls from people around—friends & family and the common question is—koi apna hospital set rakhiye ga.. in case COVID nikla, then would like to go through a friendly Hospital… nahin to Govt. Hospital mein bed nahin mil raga hai aur ye Pvt. Hospitals wale to loot macha rakhe hain!!
It reminded me of initial years of 2000, the Millennial year had just kick-started, I had left my job as PRO of Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals & ventured into my new Entrepreneurial Journey of setting India’s first dedicated ‘Healthcare PR’ co.- ViaMedia Health and I could just be a silent spectator to the harsh media & people’s bashing of one of the 1st & most beautiful Corporate Hospital- Indraprastha Apollo… starting with the Kumarmangalam (Minister’s) medical negligence case, then going on to over-pricing & loot type allegations thrown left & right.. and I knew from the deep of my sorrowful heart, that the image we built in initial 4-5 years from 1995, was going for a SIX!! It was really painful and one of the key reason which we could diagnose for such an aggressive ‘public reaction’ and ‘outrage’ was the Out of Pocket payment by people at large, majority of them were not covered by CGHS or any Govt. schemes or any other Insurance!
The Health Insurance had just started in India, not even 1% of the people were covered and hence all the blame of the rising cost of treatment, mainly the ICU stay (Critical Care was one of the most obvious culprit along with major procedures like Cancer Chemo & Surgery & Transplants) was put on the Hospitals and the Drs, as the Families who were paying from their pocket, for them it was an unplanned cost which had come as an additional burden puncturing their family budgets for many years to come. Some were even selling their Jewelry & Houses to pay for Medical Treatments which was the main reason of this unprecedented outrage, not seen before in the Healthcare sector in India! Of course, the miss-communication or the communications gap created by Hospitals’ Management Team/ Frontline Teams was also a key culprit… & I don’t see that improving much even today!
Cut to 2020, 20 years later I still wonder what has changed wrt the image of Corporate Hospitals in People’s mind in India? While being closely involved with the Covid Safety Movement, it was so encouraging to see people across the globe validating & acknowledging the role played by Frontline Workers—mainly the Drs & Nurses and the Hospital staff. Up to an extent, for the first time our PM came out & made an appeal for our Healthcare Workers and India stood to it. There was a huge applause for our Drs & Nurses and the slogan- I’M A HEALTHCARE WORKER, I CANNOT WORK FROM HOME almost caught like a fire up to a level that it can be termed as the most popular DP of this Decade, broadly putting the Drs & Healthcare Workers in the best light in recent times.
It was very pleasing to see a large no. of Media Houses showing solidarity through stories of Dr braveries and the sacrifices made by them and even the Non-sense Debate Rooms were full of such positive stories… it seemed like that our great Drs & Nurses have started getting their due, the most awaited DUE which they deserved but were quite frequently deprived of, particularly in last 2 decades.
But I think it was not to be until the Private Hospitals came back in action & again the same stories of treatment denial for want of money by the Hospitals & the Drs and another narrative of the ‘Hospitals showing their COMMERCIAL color & not leaving even the COVID Patients for want of PROFITEERING’ is today again at the peak, unfortunately.
First the FIR for Money laundering & fraud filed against the so-called self acclaimed Medical Hero of India & this Papa Doc’s Medicity which was been considered an icon of Hospital Delivery in India in the last decade! And then this very stupid episode of one of the leading & for me, one of the most professionally run Hospital group of North India putting up a standee of COVID Treatment Pricing, flashing the ‘exorbitances’ never before been displayed so blatantly in the Healthcare Delivery history of our country, since I know of it for last 25 years.
It reminded me of my days as PRO of Indraprastha Apollo (my first & last job) when I got a call from a TOI Health Journalist on a Patient not being admitted & returned back as he could not make immediate advance of Rs 50000 asked from him at the Admission counter and my reply as a ‘novice’ was straight & simple- ‘That’s the Hospital policy and what’s wrong in this, everyone asks for money for giving any services in the Private sector! So if my Hospital asks for its due, what’s wrong in it!!’… and that was it, needless to say that created the top front page Headline of TOI across, that ‘Apollo denies treatment for want of money…’
Dr Prathap C. Reddy of Apollo was very nice at that time, he didn’t fire me, but yes it gave me and all of us a life long lesson, that what you communicate and how you communicate in the ‘Healthcare sector’, mainly for issue related to Patients in India, is not only a ‘sensitive matter’ but also a ‘sacred’ one when it comes to people’s beliefs & conceptions & people across are very ‘emotional’ of ‘how they as Patients are seen by the Hospitals & Healthcare Services Delivery segment?’
I was thoroughly surprised to see a similar sort of ‘novice approach’ in what Max Hospital Management did while putting this ‘Historical Standee’ displaying the COVID Treatment Pricing & meticulously defining each cost head along with the category of rooms to be opted by the Patients!! And it took not even 24 hours for the Social Media across to spread this ‘historic visual’ like a fire, the WhatsApp Groups & the Facebook posts in last 1 week were just over-flood with this ‘Historical Standee’ with everyone posting it, making it his/ her right to give an expert comment on ‘How Private Hospitals are deadly inclined to recover the cost of suffering of last 3 months of COVID scare by exorbitantly packaging COVID treatment Costs’… unaffordable, unethical, unprecedented, shocking, loot, exploitation, criminal, unacceptable… these are just very few & far too less ‘harsh’ adjectives been circulated along with this post… by anyone & everyone who have some or the other feeling to express…as if people across here were just waiting for a ‘stick in hand to beat’ and they have almost caught a large Hospital group, CHEATING/ PROFITEERING—RED HANDED.. and this time these sufferers (people) at the hand of the Corporate Hospitals would leave no stone unturned to make sure that these ‘culprits are exposed & punished’!!
At one hand, I would give a benefit of doubt to Max Hospitals Management, they have just undergone a complete Management change and takeover by a new Corporate group with KKR as their new owners. Also the fact that they were brave enough & first ones to follow
the Govt. guidelines of displaying their COVID Treatment Prices in black & white and in true spirit of the Delhi Govt. order!
Whatever was it, it was definitely a big blunder & goof-up by the Max Hospital Management, both in terms of the Pricing they have worked out for the COVID Patients and they their audacity to display it… just giving a reason for both the Social Media Enthusiasts & the People at large to further get affected by COVID FEAR, the focus shifting from the fear of the disease to the fear of the ‘cost of treatment of COVID’, which is still not covered by Health Insurance policies, though IRDA has recently given some direction to the HI cos. in this direction, which still is in the process of implementation.
From 1% to almost 40% of the population been covered by any form of Health Insurance (including the much lauded Ayushman Bharat- PMJAY) in last 20 years and the nos. growing everyday, the common belief would have been that the Dr-Patient and the Hospital-Patients Relationship would get wiser as the ‘cost of treatment’ in Private Hospitals / the large proportion depending on out-of-pocket expenses, were the key GRUDGE coming in between!
But this BLUNDER which can also be termed as ‘irresponsible / immature communication’ by a responsible Hospital Group… which could have been avoided as it only worked as ‘putting more fuel in the burning fire’ and whatever way you want to justify, you may not be able to do so… as Max Hospital’s Communication Team whatever efforts you make to ‘reverse this crisis’ through your expert Crisis Management Team, this holy act has proven quite unholy for Max’s & all Corporate Hospitals’ Reputation, at least for now.
As in the Healthcare sector in India, it’s a proven phenomenon, that you have to look Holy more than you actually are so (in your deeds) as your Reputation is purely about ‘your target segment’s perception about you’… & that’s a reality for Healthcare in India, whether you like it or not! In Healthcare in India, still you can’t be seen to be Profiteering at the cost of People’s sufferings & been seen so in times of COVID- a Pandemic situation which is once in a century suffering at this level, it will be considered only CRIMINAL, if not less.
Now when the Drs & Hospital Staff across are actually suffering from the COVID situation gravely in many ways (their real first stand suffering has started now in India) and the hidden fact is that more than 10% staff on average in Hospitals across (both Private & Govt. sector) are themselves infected by COVID and are struggling to come out of it, we hope the People at large see through the reality and not club the Private Healthcare sector overall with what ‘the black sheep’ in this sector would be greedily doing! Max Healthcare being an exception in this case as what they did, I firmly believe was done inadvertently, may be not truly how it was perceived!
It’s the time when we all should stand UNITED and this blame game should STOP. Just for the sake of ‘fighting out of this tough COVID situation’ getting worse everyday in our country… and fighting it TOGETHER to come out as a WINNER as the people of India, irrespective of whether you represent a Hospital Management or the common citizens.
The author is Founder & CEO, HEAL Foundation
This article was originally published in BW Healthcareworld. The views expressed are personal.