The pricing of services in a hospital is perhaps one of the most complex and difficult exercise undertaken by the hospital managers. Pricing is usually a Marketing function in most industries and the final call would usually rest with the Marketing chief. However, in hospitals this seldom happens. Pricing issues are generally discussed and debated in the executive committees and the leadership teams, views are sought from senior medical leaders and usually a consensus is arrived at. l,
Many hospitals follow a ‘market based’ pricing model, which simply means they comb through the pricing policies of their competitors, get pricing data from various labs and other diagnostic centres through their referral sales teams and establish their pricing either basis a premium or a discount from their chosen competitors.
Very few hospitals have a ‘cost plus’ pricing system. Developing an accurate costing of all medical procedures is next to impossible. This is simply because the medical consumables used vary from doctor to doctor and also depend on the complexity, age and general condition of the patient. The cost is also invariably a function of the training and competence of the concerned doctors and medical staff attending on the patient. Thus the cost of a bypass surgery may vary dramatically depending on the condition of the patient, the competence of the surgeon and his team and co-morbidities like diabetes.
The calculation of a price is usually based on a ‘surgeon’s fee’. On top of this is added the cost of anaesthetic gases, the anesthetist’s fee, an OT fee and OT consumables. The surgeon’s fee is usually checked with the hospital’s surgeons and if it is Rs. X, the fee for surgery inclusive of gases, anaesthetist’s fee and the OT charges usually adds up to Rs. 2X.
The patient on top of this is charged room rent depending on his choice of the hospital room, the cost of medicines and room/ward consumables and all diagnostics. The hospital also charges exorbitant consultant’s visiting fee every time he/she visits a patient in the hospital. (Some hospitals like Artemis cap this to a maximum of two chargeable visits). Strangely all hospitals charge a premium on all services if a patient chooses a single or higher category rooms. This simply means that if one opts for a single room one pays higher for everything, the surgeons fee, the cost of surgery and diagnostic tests. Most people do not know this and believe that the hospitals charge a premium only on room rent. Many would consider this a pernicious practice simply because a surgeon’s skill and time, which are the determinants of his fee has nothing to do with the room category a patient is in.
Some hospitals like Max Hospitals create price bands for surgeries based on their complexity and average duration. Thus all surgeries in a particular band has the same basic surgeon’s fee. On top of it is added everything else.
Healthcare Pricing in India is still very unscientific and subjective. This is a far cry from the pricing models prevalent in the US, where ICD and other scientifically designed parameters help assess the cost of a procedure and patient billing. Health Insurance companies have been able to push through accurate and scientific billing procedures.
The need for a better system for patient billing in hospitals is acute. The government must establish a regulatory body to help fix the basic billing rules for all hospitals. The hospitals should than be allowed to price themselves as they wish keeping in mind their expenses etc. I would reckon once insurance companies gain prominence as payors, they would start dictating their terms to the hospitals.
And that would be a different story altogether.
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