The Destruction of Trust – A Media Trial and a Witch-Hunt

The last couple of weeks have been a difficult one for the healthcare services providers in the NCR of Delhi. The media have been busy reporting about how Fortis and Max Healthcare ill-treat their patients and how the only thing they care about is profits. Having worked in both the hospitals, I can only say that this is completely wrong. The media-houses in their zeal to sensationalise and chase TRP’s are doing a great dis-service to these hospitals and the the medical profession in the country. The reporting is biased, short on facts and the conclusions drawn are completely unwarranted even bordering on fantasy.

The stories pertain to two cases, one at Fortis Hospital, Gurgaon where a 7-year-old child died of complications related to Dengue and the hospital is accused of over-charging and being callous. The other pertains to Max Healthcare, which is charged with negligence as one of the twins born at 23 weeks gestation was wrongly declared dead at Max Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi. The false narrative being spun is that the hospital chains are negligent, money- making machines and do not care for their patients. The outrage is completely manufactured and the stories falsely amplified and one-sided.

To make matters infinitely worse the politicians too have jumped in. They clearly want to be seen as championing the poor masses, who mostly cannot afford the services of these hospitals. The hospitals are being subject to multiple enquiries and the police has been called in to investigate the ‘murders’. The hospitals are being threatened with the cancellation of their licenses. (Strangely, a few months ago when scores of children died at a government owned hospital in Gorakhpur because the hospital ran out of oxygen supplies, no one thought of cancelling the license of that hospital)

Lest, we forget, both these hospital chains are amongst the top 5 private healthcare services providers in India. Between them they run more than 40 hospitals, treating thousands of patients every day. They are amongst the most well equipped hospitals in the country, boasting of the highest levels of technology, processes and systems and have patient outcomes comparable to the best in the world. They employ the finest of clinical talent available in the country and provide them an environment to excel. The hospitals attract thousands of patients from all over the world, who travel from across the globe seeking treatment for the most complex of diseases. Having worked in both the organisations, I can confidently say, that while there are many differences between the two institutions, both are thoroughly committed to the highest standards of patient care.

In-spite of all this, the hospitals are not infallible. No hospital in the world is. They can only aspire to do better, keep improving themselves and always try to do the best they can.We need to ponder, how these centre of clinical excellence have suddenly become pariahs overnight basis two cases, where there have been lapses. Like in any other profession or sphere of human endeavour, errors are inevitable. Tight processes, technology support and intent to weed these errors out is far more important than the errors themselves. On these, I can say without any hesitation that the hospitals compare favourably  with the very best that we have in the country.

The line between genuine errors and negligence is very thin. Doctors, while racing to save lives are required to make split second decisions, which may mean the difference between life and death to their patients. Sometimes not taking a particular decision may prove fatal and at others taking a particular decision may lead to complications. We have to trust our doctors to take the right decisions based on their experience and judgement. We also have to accept the fact that their decisions might turn out to be wrong and that these decisions can have horrendous consequences. This is just the nature of medicine. An adverse outcome doesn’t mean that the surgeon or the hospital messed up. It mostly means that they tried their best and yet didn’t succeed.

This is something very fundamental to healthcare. As patients or care-givers, we must support the doctors as best as we can. We can question, we can ask but let us not blame, at least, not every time something goes wrong. If we believe that there is a case of genuine negligence, as consumers we do have options. We can lodge a complaint with the Indian Medical Council, approach the consumer courts or go to the police. We must use these options judiciously.

Getting back to the baby, who was born at 23 weeks of gestation at Max Hospital, Shalimar Bagh. It has now been established that the decision, not to resuscitate the child was medically correct as he had a very slim chance of survival. The prognosis in case of survival too was also very poor. The decision to declare the child lifeless, without fully ascertaining the fact of death was wrong. Failure to properly communicate this tragedy to the parents too was an error. Was this negligence? Was their any malafide intent of causing harm to the child or undue pain to his parents? In my view this certainly wasn’t the case. I am not an expert in these matters and various eminent clinicians are conducting an enquiry about what happened. My view as a layman is that someone made a mistake, it was a bad mistake to make, hopefully some lessons too would have been learned and this would never be repeated again.

Does this mean that the hospital, the doctors and the administrators be called vultures, cheats and murderers and have rampaging mobs running amok in the hospitals baying for their blood?

The views expressed are personal.

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The Advent of ‘Reverse Medical Value Travel’

Well, I don’t know what else to call it.

But this seems to be an emerging opportunity in the broader Medical Value Travel firmament. Last week, I learnt that my friend and former colleague Dr. Sunil Prakash, who is a well known nephrologist in New Delhi, was a part of a team that performed a kidney transplant at the Muhimbili Hospital in Dar es Salam, Tanzania. Dr. Prakash posted happy pictures with the patient and it appears the event generated excitement and a lot of publicity in Tanzania. Apparently, this was the first ever kidney transplant conducted in the country.

Essentially an Indian team of doctors carried out a complex surgery in a hospital in Eastern Sub Saharan Africa. Instead of the patient making the journey to a hospital in India, a team of doctors traveled and treated the patient in a foreign hospital.

I would call this ‘Reverse Medical Value Travel’ and I expect this to increase in the coming years.

This is certainly not new phenomenon. Many years ago Fortis Hospitals had tied up with the Talimi Hospital in Basra, Iraq. Fortis started conducting cardiac surgeries in the hospital in Basra. A team of surgeons, anaesthetists, perfusionists and a bunch of nurses would arrive in Basra and would go straight to the hospital and operate patients, who were pre-selected and already admitted in the hospital. A new team would arrive every week to replace the previous team and the teams would typically rotate every 6 weeks or so. This was a very successful program, ran for several years and I am told over 900 surgeries were conducted. I remember the initial problems we had in getting the clinical teams to travel to Basra but once the program started, it really took off.

I am sure there would be other examples of successful ‘Reverse Medical Value Travel’ elsewhere too.

The Reasons for the Emergence of Reverse Medical Value Travel

The primary reason for the inevitable rise of ‘Reverse Medical Value Travel’ is not difficult to understand. In many parts of the world, with healthy economic growth, are emerging exciting opportunities in the business of healthcare. Enterprising organisations and individuals are willing to invest in healthcare infrastructure such as hospital buildings and medical equipments, essentially things that money can easily buy. One can build a reasonably sized hospital in under 2 years but it is indeed difficult, well nigh impossible to develop a steady pipeline of clinical talent to work in the hospital. It takes several years if not decades for good medical teaching institutes to produce high quality medical talent. Thus, there is an emerging and deepening shortage of qualified and experienced medical teams who can sustain the new hospitals coming up at a frenetic pace.These hospitals are relying on importing medical talent from abroad. Successful clinicians with good patient base rarely uproot themselves and move to new pastures. Thus, we see clinical teams traveling for short durations and the emergence of “Reverse Medical Value Travel”.

The Advantages of Reverse Medical Value Travel

One of the key advantages of Reverse Medical Value Travel clearly is that it saves sick patients long distance travel. It allows patients to be treated closer to their homes, surrounded by family and friends and in a familiar environment. After being discharged from the hospital they can straightaway head home. I am sure this leads to faster healing and recovery.

The other advantage lies in sheer numbers. A single team of doctors can treat a large number of patients in one visit. Thus, a team of 5 can perhaps operate 25 patients over a a week. This implies that less number of people need to travel. Usually, when patients travel, they are also accompanied by family members and care-givers. The hassle is so much less.

Reverse Medical Value Travel brings the benefits of training and learning to the local clinical teams. They inevitably join in the surgeries and learn by working with experts from abroad operating in their hospitals. This is of immense value as the local teams learn and practice new skills with old masters. This transfer of skills and knowledge creates a ‘guru-shishya’ relationship with strong and long-lasting bonds. It also develops tremendous goodwill and bonding.

For the visiting clinicians operating in alien environments, often facing a language barrier and working in different cultural settings is also a tremendous learning. Most love the challenge and enjoy proving their mettle in these relatively difficult situations.

The local governments consider ‘Reverse Medical Value Travel’ as a boon. The precious foreign exchange outgo is much less, the skills enhancement and the goodwill generated in the local communities is tremendous, the media is very supportive – perfect for local politicians who welcome the foreign clinical teams with open arms.

This is a win-win for all.

The Pitfalls

While “Reverse Medical Value Travel” gradually takes wings, one has to carefully consider the risks as well. The clinicians operating in foreign hospitals have to be well protected with indemnity insurance and in some difficult places with blanket immunity. The hospital infrastructure has to be very good and the doctors should not be pressured into operating cases that they might not be comfortable with. The clinical protocols of the hospital, infection control measures and other critical medical parameters must be of a high order. The teams for post-operative care should be well trained to look after the patients once the foreign teams have departed.

In most countries, local hospitals or governments take care of most of these.

I believe that “Reverse Medical Value Travel is a great opportunity for Indian Hospitals. It can help them earn not only dollars but universal respect and tremendous goodwill.

The Meaningless Healthcare Awards

The Indian healthcare industry is awash with awards. Not a month passes, when I do not receive proposals from all manner of people to participate in some awards or the other. This is rather embarassing to many of us simply because these awards are just a sham. For some though, this constitutes a compelling business opportunity. Thus, there are companies whose business model is giving sundry awards and to make matters infinitely worse, we now have large media companies rushing in with sackful of awards, to be presented to anyone who is willing to buy media space in their publications.

The Problem

The scheme goes something like this.

A media house announces a bunch of awards to be presented in a “glittering” function at one of the city’s 5 star hotels. The award categories are numerous and almost all aspects of hospitals are covered. This is done deliberately so as to maximise the number of people/hospitals that can be awarded. The media sales people then fan out and start meeting hospital marketing teams, asking for registrations/nominations for the award. These are to be sent with an accompanying cheque, usually the amount ranges from INR 25000-50000 per category. In itself, not a very large amount but the numbers deceive. Usually a hospital applies for multiple awards, let us say 10 out of the 50 or so available. And then there are dozens of hospitals applying in all these categories. The numebrs all add up beautifully.

Well, this isn’t the end of it. The media sales team then come up with media supplements and special pages, which are supposed to cover these awards. This is really the big one. Hospitals, are cajoled to advertise in these supplements and are often promised pictures of they receiving the awards and their quotes being carried in the accompanying write-ups. If the electronic media is involved, the event along with the bytes of the winners get broadcast as well. All this is sold as a package.

To further amplify all this the social media too is available. The pictures are posted, tweets are sent out to gulliable readers announcing the winners of the awards, often accompanied by their smiling visages and small clips of ‘thank you’ speeches do the rounds.

In an intensely competitive industry there is a need to differentiate the awards and hence sometimes consulting companies too are roped in. They are supposed to lend a bit of credibility to the entire exercise, the senior managers are trotted out to present the awards to the winners and it all makes for a nice photo-op.

If the media house is one of the larger ones, they are usually able to get hold of a “neta” or two. If they really get lucky, the health minister might himself turn-up. The lure of the media is usually irresistable to the political class. To add the glamour quotient a socialite is usually brought in, usually to be the MC for the evening. I recall with amusement attending one function, where she couldn’t even pronounce the name of the minister but than it doesn’t matter much.

All of this is of course done with quite a bit of tamasha of going through the motions and following due processes to arrive at the winners. Fortunately, there are enough categories and everyone can comfortably win.

Well, you get the picture.

This is the sad reality of most of the healthcare awards. Bereft of any credibility, done purely on commercial lines, they serve no purpose. In fact, they do a lot of harm.

The readers of these publications/viewers of the TV stations are befooled by the false recognition given to thoroughly undeserving doctors/hospitals, for achievements they never had and things that they never accomplished. This is plain wrong.

The media houses too are diminished by this unalloyed greed. By honouring and recognising those who have done little of value and paid a lot to get the award, the media houses are essentially cheating their readers and viewers.

The hospitals and media houses both must introspect seriously. The quest for publicity on the part of the hospitals and the lure of money on the part of the media houses is the underlying cause for this sorry state of affairs. This is an unholy nexus, crass opportunism at its worst and we must end this, the sooner the better.

The Solution

I would urge hospitals to stop participating in these awards. We need to identify a couple of respectable industry bodies and compete for awards in their fora. FICCI and CII are respectable industry bodies and we can work with them in setting up fool-proof mechanisms of recognising excellence in healthcare through awards. A rigorous process can be set up to scrub entries, reputed audit firms can be engaged to audit and certify the selection criteria and awards given out strictly on merit. A media partner can be engaged to amplify the awards in a legitimate manner, highlighting true merit, excellence and innovation.

We will all win if we do it this way.

The views expressed are personal

The Demonizing of Private Healthcare in India

The demonizing of private healthcare services providers in India seems to have reached a fever pitch. Everyday the social media is agog with how private hospitals, mostly in the quest of unhealthy profits are compromising with patient safety, recklessly using expensive medicines, over-charging and generally not treating patients well.

This is rather sad and generally a very one-sided view.

Private Hospitals in India invest heavily in hospital infrastructure. The cost in building the infrastructure, installing cutting edge medical equipment, hiring experienced and statured clinicians and managing the enterprise is high. The patients who prefer private healthcare providers also demand world-class services. There is nothing wrong in this. However, this also means that the healthcare costs are going up. Most patients do recognize the fact that a private hospital is a for-profit enterprise and the investors do need a return on their investment.

Thus, the quest for profits by the investors is legitimate. However, this must not deteriorate into blatant profiteering. This is clearly understood by most of the corporate hospitals. Even a casual glance will indicate that the EBITDA margins of most of the large healthcare chains in India are below 15%. At these levels the hospitals can hardly be accused of profiteering, particularly when the up-front investments are high and the profits emerge usually after 5-7 years of operations.

It is also a fact of life in India today that most people who can afford to pay prefer to go to private hospitals.  The subsidized government hospitals are over-crowded, filthy and callous. The accountability of the care being provided is very limited, the clinicians are over-worked and under-paid. Industrial disputes with the government are rampant and often some or the other section of the employees are on strike. The private corporate hospitals in sharp contrast to the government hospitals provide high quality care in state of the art hospitals. The clinicians are paid much better, they are also held accountable for the quality of care being provided, peer reviews are regularly done and hospitals are run on processes and systems that rival the best in the world.

Now, with this being our reality, it is rather unfair to blame private hospitals for ‘over-charging’, which is often confused with being expensive. That the hospitals use expensive branded drugs can hardly be held against them. If we expect great patient outcomes, the hospitals have to use the most appropriate and efficacious drugs and these are expensive. In India, where there are more than 30000 drug manufacturing units, some of them manufacturing spurious or barely efficacious drugs, the clinicians will tend to use drugs manufactured by large well-known drug companies and one will have to defer to their judgement. After-all, they are squarely accountable for the clinical outcomes and we can hardly ask them to produce great outcomes, while working with their hands tied behind their backs.

Pretty much the same applies for everything else that happens in a hospital. Infection control, IT system led processes to reduce medical errors, high-end diagnostic equipment and world-class OT’s all cost a lot of money.

The problem seems to be that, while the patient expectations in terms of care and outcomes has significantly gone up, they are just not reconciled to pay for these services as much as they cost to deliver.

The Role of the Media

The sad truth about media in India today is that in search of TRP’s, they have lost objectivity and even probity in what they report. The media is no more interested in facts or for that matter the truth. Most viewers want to see an individual patient, maybe a grieving father, take on the big hospital, which “killed” his daughter. This is clearly high drama and the media just loves it. The images are just too compelling and it is so easy to paint the big hospital as the ogre. The TRP’s are there to be had.

This kind of vilification and sensationalism, with very little care for truth or fairness is unfortunate but in today’s times, inevitable. While, a sustained onslaught is mounted for a few days, the hospitals run for cover, it is great spectacle for the mass viewer. And then a new story comes along and we all move on.

Sadly, while the media moves on, this kind of reporting causes long term loss of trust between patients and hospitals. This is a catastrophic and an insidious loss as trust between a doctor/hospital and their patients is usually the bedrock of  the relationship itself. In the absence of trust, things between clinicians and patients start going wrong right from the beginning.

The media must realize this and play a more non-partisan and balanced role in this dialogue. It should certainly highlight the shortcomings of the hospitals, however it should do so in a balanced and judicious manner.

The Role of Social Media

Social media has empowered patients and customers. It has given a voice to the ordinary man, who can at the push of a few buttons air his grievances to many and watch others join in, sharing in the anguish or narrating their own past woes.

However, here too rampant abuse is visible. It has become fashionable to troll service companies be it an airline or a hospital. Yes, sometimes front line service staffers may behave rudely, particularly when provoked, but is that a reflection of the organisation’s culture and ethos?

In cases involving hospitals and death, which unfortunately cannot be avoided in hospitals, it is common for the grieving relatives to take to social media airing all kinds of issues related to the quality of service and billing deficiencies. Most of these issues emerge only with hind-sight. Many of them, sadly are a matter of perception but are always aired as indisputable facts. The doctors working hard to save a life suddenly become merchants of death. While the patient is in the hospital, the usual demand is “do whatever to save my baby”, suddenly the hospital starts being accused of callous behaviour, ill-treatment and criminal negligence. In a recent case, I even heard an argument that the hospital charged so much, yet they couldn’t save the child. If only, we could buy a precious life, by spending money….

To make matters worse, we than see the proverbial mob arrive. Everyone here has a past tale to narrate about the horrors they suffered at the same or even other private hospitals. This becomes the pre-dominant narrative, and if the hospital tries to respond with facts, they are showered with the choicest and the nastiest abuse. The hospital decides to usually cop it and wait for this to blow-over.

Sadly, this too causes a serious erosion of trust between doctors and patients. It simply helps no one.

So What needs to be done

The hospitals need to acknowledge that there might be some bad eggs among their fraternity. These need to be weeded out. They also need to acknowledge that patient communication is not their strongest suite and they need to work on it more diligently. They also need to show greater empathy and take care of the “small things” that can so easily be fixed yet cause serious consternation among the patient community. They also must set up Patient Grievance Committees to help patients reach out and complain if they are not satisfied with any aspect of care or have an issue with billing.

The patients have to realize that private healthcare in India is becoming more and more expensive (while it still remains the cheapest in the world). This is only natural as Indian hospitals aim to deliver better quality healthcare across the board. If they choose to go to private hospitals in the hope of receiving world-class care, it is bound to be expensive. As responsible citizens they must have health insurance to protect themselves in medical emergencies. Running down hospitals and doctors on social media does not help in any manner. On the contrary it does immense damage. Patients and their care-givers must also realize that hospitals cannot guarantee a particular outcome, they can only try. By being dismissive of their desperate and perhaps ”expensive” efforts later on, they are only encouraging doctors and hospitals to hold their horses in their battle against disease. Let us not do this.

As far as media is concerned, they must stop playing to the galleries. Individual lapses must not be generalized to vilify hospitals and clinicians in general. While one understands their love for the TRP’s (after-all everyone needs to make a living!!!), they must carefully ponder the kind of damage they are doing to the sacred relationship between doctors and patients. Do highlight lapses as human errors, negligence as failure of an individual or a system but do not call everyone crooked and corrupt. The majority and by far the majority of clinicians try their best to cure without causing any harm.

Sadly, in the polarized, binary world that we increasingly inhabit, this is perhaps too much to ask.

The views expressed here are personal. 

CUSTOMER ADVOCACY – HELPS BUILD BRANDS

advocacy

Customer Advocacy is the new buzz word in the healthcare marketing space these days. Actually it is in many ways a bit of some old wine in a shiny new bottle. For many years now, healthcare marketers have known the power of customer advocacy, which in the olden days was known in somewhat more prosaic terms as ‘Word of Mouth’.

Customer Advocacy is all about patients talking about their experiences at hospitals and at various touch-points as they engage with healthcare service providers. In the healthcare space, patients talking well of a hospital, doctor or nursing care has always resonated a lot more than say, someone discussing a wonderful evening out in a restaurant or a five star hotel. In a hospital, a good experience usually means someone overcoming all odds, someone coming through a debilitating illness or someone recovering uneventfully from an emergent and unexpected surgery.

That patients will speak well of a hospital and its services is premised on one single fact – that the hospital will deliver a great experience to patients all the time. This is unfortunately easier said than done. A patient in the hospital today has many touch points and as the patient navigates her journey around the hospital, her experiences keep mounting. In the past, patients expected very little from the hospitals, the basic expectation was to just get out of the hospital alive!!!. Today, the hospital has to ensure its floors and rooms are spick and span, the doctors communicate well with the patients and the attendants, the nurses are ever vigilant and responsive, the quality of food served is comparable to a gourmet restaurants (no more jokes about the hospital food of yore!!!), the discharge process is quick and the billing is transparent. And an expected medical outcome is almost a given!!!!

There is nothing wrong with these expectations. A good modern day hospital should offer these and more. However, from the point of view of driving customer advocacy, it is a must that the hospital offers these experiences in a manner that meet patient expectations. To make matters more interesting a hospital, which hopes to use customer advocacy as a key marketing tool, must ensure that some of these experiences are delivered way beyond patient expectations and thus can become ‘talking points’. Thus, some of these experiences have to be tailored differently, delivered with great sincerity and truly from the heart to sway a customer to talk well about the hospitals.

Now if a hospital is geared to deliver superlative customer experiences, the marketer’s task becomes a little easier. He has to now ensure that the customer has easy ways of communicating his experiences to the wide world. In today’s 24×7 connected worlds, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook come in very handy. Large hospital chains in the country have huge fanbases and followers and they encourage patients to record their experiences and then share them on these platforms. Hospital chains like Fortis and Max Healthcare extensively use slickly shot video testimonials, which are put up on different social media platforms and shared to generate the buzz.

A few hospitals also use in-hospital communication in the form of the traditional ‘wall of fame’ where they talk about positive patient experiences and simultaneously recognise employees showing exemplary behaviour based on patient feedback.

Many hospitals also encourage patients, who have had great experience at the hospitals to come and engage with others, currently undergoing therapy. This is usually a cathartic experience for many as they are able to closely identify with the speaker and feel motivated in their fight against a disease. In my many years of working in hospitals, I have organised many such events and the goodwill and joy that these events generate is best experienced by attending a session in person.

Many a times, I have seen patients volunteering to even participate with their doctors in media events organised by hospitals as spokespersons for the hospital. Recently, I was in Kenya for a media interaction that we were holding for the local media in Nairobi. The interaction featured two patients, who had received outstanding care at hospitals in India and they spoke beautifully about their successful fight against implacable foes like cancer and traumatic injuries. John began by saying that ‘Let me tell you that cancer can be cured…I know it better than anyone else…’ and Omar narrated how his 12 year old son recovered from an accidental injury that everyone has given up on. They spoke eloquently, answered questions, hugged their family and thanked the doctors for their support and care during difficult days. –Real patient stories at their best.

No amount of advertising can have the kind of impact that a patient telling his stories from the heart has. It is immensely powerful and the most potent way of building a brand and winning hearts.

An edited version of this piece has also appeared in Healthcare Radius/Feb 2015

The State of the Reunion

DSC_0342This weekend turned out to be a milestone. About 30 of us from the class of 1989 at the Choithram School in Indore met for our 25th year reunion at Punjapani near Indore. Many of us had traveled from far and wide to attend this magical weekend and relive a shared past.

The venue was unique, literally in the middle of no-where. The phone signals mercifully did not work, there were no TV sets and the world seemed to be all at peace.

Meeting friends whom all of us had known even longer than our respective spouses was an incredible experience. Much to my amazement, we bonded with each other so much better. We now had the maturity, which comes from age and the shared values imbibed in our childhood seems to have largely stood the test of time.

Here are a few things that I learned from this extra-ordinary meeting.

1. It is important that we spend more time in the company of old friends. It is a great stress-buster and also allows one to see things in the right perspective. In the day to day rush of life, one often forgets that the real rewards are not in chasing big dreams but in enjoying every-day.

2. Good company and shared laughs are important. We need people with whom we can laugh at ourselves. I discovered this to be therapeutic. The reunion transported me back 25 years and I relived the things I did as a gawky somewhat awkward teenager!!!

3. It is never too late to say things that we never said and had regretted ever since. Appreciation for some past kindnesses, questions that have remained unanswered, doubts that were never clarified and issues that need to be finally aired and hopefully buried for good. A reunion is almost perfect for such discussions. It makes one feel lighter, a kind of rejuvenation of the soul.

4. A reunion is also a perfect place to renew old and lost associations. The passage of time often dims the lights and makes strangers out of friends. I must confess that leading up to this meeting, I was a bit ambivalent about the purpose of the whole exercise. Song and dance and a big booze party is not really my scene and this reunion threatened to become one, as the more boisterous amongst us planned the event. It seemed I was clearly in the minority. However, while we did manage to have a big blast, the shared past and the ubiquitous connect that all of us experienced was truly a much more uplifting experience. (The booze and the song and the dance not-withstanding)

5. Finally, I must say this. This reunion was in many ways a humbling experience. It was great to know that in these intervening years, life has by and large treated us very kindly. Many of us had college going children, thriving businesses, loving spouses and marriages that have mostly worked, successful careers and above all  good health. A reunion allows one to step back and count ones blessings. We know that in-spite of the balding pates and the bulging paunches, we really have much to be grateful about.

Here is to the next 25 years!!!

The Story of John and Omar – How Customer Advocacy Builds Brands

200308966-001I was in Nairobi earlier this month. The occasion was to inaugurate Max Healthcare’s information Center in the city. I was accompanied by our partner based in Dubai and the program consisted of the usual run of the mill stuff. We had a couple of doctors accompanying us for the almost obligatory OPD’s, which were being hosted by a local medical center in the Upper Hill area of Nairobi. In the evening was a small press interaction, where all of us were to make some noises about how we expected to partner with the local medical fraternity in improving healthcare services in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya.

I was quite apprehensive about this. It is a known fact that the local medical community does not much appreciate foreign doctors landing up on their shores under the guise of OPD’s and taking away ‘their’ patients to sundry hospitals abroad. Though, I have never really understood the cause of this antipathy, (after-all only those patients will choose to travel abroad whose medical condition is such that can not be treated locally) I have been told by our Kenyan hosts that this is for real. Thus, I was a little concerned about a media interaction, where I may have to respond to some sensitive questions.

Also, I was worried that we really didn’t have much to share. After all an information centre of an Indian hospital chain is not really the most interesting piece of news even from the point of view of the news starved media of the city. When we reached the venue in the late afternoon, I was relieved to see our guests trickling in, the PR guys were busy settling the media folks down, the atmosphere was convivial and relaxed.

We had lined up the doctors to talk about their specialities (cancer and neuro-surgery), I was to speak briefly about Max Healthcare and our reasons for landing in Nairobi and our partner from Dubai was to talk about their reasons for joining hands with Max in this venture. We also had two patients, who had been treated at our hospitals and had returned home safely with wonderful experiences in Delhi.

We were soon done with our respective spiels and I could feel a sense of disappointment in the room. The journalists had come with hopes of an interesting evening and our stories had hardly set the room on fire. The presentations from the doctors were also a little technical, which too added to the gloom. They had tried hard, however for doctors to speak in front of an audience and not to lapse into medical jargon is an herculean task. The only saving grace seemed to be the booze and the plentiful food.

As the evening wore on, we had John come up to address the media. John is a cancer survivor, full of life and vitality. Earlier in the day, when I had met him he had told me about his struggle with the big C and how he had fought desperately to beat it. He had been treated by Dr. Rudra Acharya, the cancer surgeon who had spoken a while earlier. “I am here to tell you all, that cancer can be beaten, I am a living proof of this” began John. He narrated his ordeal with a great deal of emotions, the hopelessness of a patient diagnosed with cancer, how it hits you and what extra-ordinary courage it takes to fight this uphill battle. John appeared to be a man with a great deal of conviction and perhaps driven by a mission to share his story widely. He spoke eloquently about how he was taken care of by a team of doctors drawn from various cancer sub-specialities, how did they collaborate to ensure he received the most effective treatment and how everything came together in the end to pull him out from a very difficult situation. He was effusive in thanking Dr. Acharya and the team of doctors, who saw him through this very difficult phase of his life and spoke very highly of his experiences in an Indian hospital so far away from Nairobi. Soon he had his wife join him on the podium, and the two held the audience completely enthralled while sharing even small incidents that touched their hearts. ” I am planning to be in Delhi once again in February for my check-ups and this time round my doctors have invited me to stay at their homes. We missed the Taj Mahal the last time round, I sure hope to see it now” said John. He than invited Dr. Acharya to join him and his wife and both of them warmly hugged Dr. Acharya, who seemed a little overwhelmed with all the attention.

The media loved John. They were now firing questions at him and were literally eating out of his hands.

Soon we had our other guest, Omar, on the podium. He wanted to talk about the treatment of his son at Max Hospital in Saket, New Delhi. His 12 year old son had met with a freak accident in school. The child had tried jumping across a barrier, had landed on the edge and ruptured his urinary pipe. Omar had taken his son to at-least half a dozen centres in various parts of Eastern Africa. Nothing had worked till he landed with Prof. Anant Kumar  in Delhi. Dr. Kumar took up the challenge and re-constructed the ruptured pipe. Omar had been delighted to see his son recover and for him his Indian sojourn had truly been one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I had met Omar for the first time in the office of Dr. Anant Kumar in Delhi, about two weeks before this press interaction.I had told him of my plans to travel to Kenya and he had volunteered to come and speak about his experiences with the local media. Omar is of Somali descent, not only did he come over to see us and share his story, he helped arrange many Somali TV stations based in Kenya to come for the press conference. He first narrated his story in English for the benefit of the Kenyan media and than for good measure he repeated everything in the local Somali dialect for the Somali audience both in Kenya and back home in Somalia.

John and Omar both did us a great turn, though all they wanted was to help others overcome similar obstacles in their lives. They volunteered to share their stories of difficult times and their struggles and how they found comfort and happiness with a couple of highly skilled doctors and their dedicated teams in a faraway, strange land.

Thank you John and Omar.