The Magic of Kausani in the Rains

DSCF3040This is a weekend break, which we almost did not have.

It seems the whole of Delhi had the same idea of heading for the mountains and that too much before it occured to us. We wanted to go to Lansdowne in the Garhwal, which is less than 6 hours away from Delhi. The other choices were Mukteshwar and Kausani in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas. After vainly trying on the net and through assorted travel agents we could find accomodation only at Kausani a good 10 hours drive from New Delhi. We decided to leave earlier, a night before, broke our journey en route at Moradabad and left for Kausani the next morning.

We drove in driving rain and stopped at Haldwani in the foothills, for breakfast.

The drive in the hills had a dream like quality to it. We were in the clouds,  enveloped by a steadily drizzling gossamer curtain, which seemed to have descended upon us straight from the heavens. From this curtain emerged the hills and the vales of the magnificent Kumaon, covered in astoundiong shades of green. We drove up the side of a hill and than down to Bhowali and than took a right for Almora. We took the Almora bypass to avoid the bustling hill town and drove on to Kausani, which turned out to be no more than a hamlet with many hotels.DSCF3125

As we drove up to the town’s main square, we ran into a Janamashtami Mela, with thousands of people celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna at the town’s main temple. Men dressed in their very best, women in gaudy sarees and faux jewellery and young girls in salwar kurtas pressed against the car. The street vendors selling ‘bhuttas’, pakoris, sweetmeats, baubles and trinkets and cheap cosmetics were having a field day. After much shouting and blaring of horns, we were able to drive up to our hotel about 3 kms from the town square.

Kausani, at 1890mt. lies atop a ridge, surrounded by dense pine forests and affords a magnificent view of the Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi, Trishul and Panchchauli. It also overlooks the Someshwar valley on one side and the Garur valley on the other side. From our hotel, perched right on the top, we could see clouds filled valleys and the distant peaks looked ghostly, almost floating on the clouds. We decided to spend the evening doing nothing, which is really the best you can do in Kausani. I settled down on a reclining chair in the hotel’s balcony and quietly watched the clouds flit by, changing by the minute the splendour spread all around us. As darkness gathered and the lights came on, we could see Garur glittering in the valley, the light filtering through the haze. We played chess and enjoyed a perfect evening, had dinner and went for a walk in the hills. DSCF3191

After breakfast the next morning we headed for a drive in the hills. The valley still shrouded in the mist had an unreal feel to it. We drove down from Kausani to the Garud valley. We stopped at the fabled tea gardens on the hill slopes and clambered up the mountainside surrounded by the tea bushes. As the day wore on the mist slowly dispersed, and we caught glimpses of the far away snow peaks, appearing surreal, almost suspended in air. We drove down to the temple town of Baijnath on the banks of the river Gomti. The drive is through majestic forests of Pine, Devdar and Fir. Often, we would stop and spill out of the car to look at and appreciate the vistas of Himalayan ranges spread out in front of us.

Kausani turned out to be the perfect place for getting away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Even during a long weekend, it did not attract hoards of tourist. It was a quiet and peaceful place with clouds filled valleys and forests, a place for a little solitude and reflection. A perfect getaway, if ever there was one from the madness and wild scramble of Delhi.

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The Hindustan Times and the Hospitals in Delhi

HT Report 1The whole of the last week The Hindustan Times carried a series of stories highlighting incidents of ‘negligence’ in high profile private hospitals in Delhi. The hospitals featured included Fortis Escorts Hospital, Max Hospitals, Apollo Hospital, Sir Gangaram Hospital and Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Hospital. Now these hospitals in Delhi are the best that we have. While, Hindustan Times has a right to expose cases of negligence in hospitals I am still not sure what purpose was served by these reports.

Here are a couple of points I would like to make about these ‘exposes’.

The cases reported highlighted horrific experiences consumers had in these hospitals. Most people featured in the story lost a loved one because the hospital failed to deliver adequate care and refused to take responsibility for what went wrong. These I am afraid were random cases picked up by intrepid journalists and made for riveting reading. However, the journalists doing these stories did not investigate the reason for these failures. The question why did these hospitals fail in their duty towards their patients remains unanswered. Was the failure a result of a doctor not discharging his duties properly, or was it a failure of the hospitals processes or both? Or was it negligence or an error of judgement on the part of a doctor? Did he deliberately mistreat a patient, was callous in discharging his duties, wilfully deviated from standard medical practices or just did not care enough?   Continue reading

Coping with Swine Flu in India

swine fluSwine flu has finally arrived in India.

So far 4 people have died and 782 people are confirmed to be infected with the virus and are undergoing treatment in designated government hospitals. The deaths have been in Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, while Pune seems to be the worst hit. Strangely, school children appear to be seriously affected and many schools have shut down for a week or more.

Last week when I was in Mumbai a colleague called up in the evening. His 8 years old daughter was having a high fever and flu like symptoms. He had taken her to Max Hospital in Saket in New Delhi and he had been referred by the paediatrician to a government owned facility in Malviya Nagar for suspected swine flu. ‘The doctor did not even touch her, heard us while we explained the symptoms and promptly referred us to the government hospitals for tests. The government hospital admitted her for observation and now we do not know what to do. I fear even if my kid does not have swine flu, she is likely to catch it in the hospital’  explained my colleague Vijay Jain.

Another colleague in Mumbai, who was coughing and sneezing, had a bad throat and a fever decided not to come to work for a few days.  He felt that it wasn’t right for him to put others in office at risk.

These are tough calls. It is difficult for doctors to diagnose Swine Flu from the symptoms a patient presents. If the flu like symptoms are a little severe thay have no choice but to refer patients to the designated hospitals for tests, which means a patient has to visit a hospital, which has confirmed cases of Swine Flu and is therefore exposed to the disease. It is really a catch 22 situation.

In this situation the best thing to do would be to avoid going to busy public places, which are closed, particularly malls, airports, cinema theatres and yes offices and schools.

It would also help not to panic if one develops flu like symptoms. Afterall flu, that is the normal flu is a lot more prevalent than the swine flu and kills many more people every year. Mortality rate due to swine flu is still quite low, less than 7 per thousand. Statistically this is not a big cause of concern.

The government on its part must involve some private hospitals in combating the epidemic. It would help if a few private hospitals were allowed to test blood samples for the disease and admit patients in secluded wards. Large private hospitals are certainly more than capable of maintaining the records, treating the patients and ensuring that the disease remains in check. Additional testing and treatment centres will also help in instilling greater confidence in the public.

The government must also embark on a public awareness campaign. It must use mass media to educate the public about the disease, its symptoms, diagnostic procedure, treatment and prognosis. While I have noticed some advertising, it is hardly adequate.

Finally, the media must behave responsibly. In a situation like this it is indeed easy to create panic and cause mayhem by irresponsible journalism. It is the duty of all journalists to report objectively without resorting to unnecessary sensationalism and devoting too much media space to stories related to the spread of the disease.

Last but not the least, let us spare a thought for folks in the medical profession. They are at great personal risk in handling infectious patients. However, this is part and parcel of their calling. They must take all possible precautions, while providing succor and care to all those who seek their helHospital,p.

At the end of the day all of us are at risk. It is really up to us to exercise caution and help in whatever small way we can to fight the disease.

Pic courtesy

Some names have been changed to protect privacy

Marketing With In

Memorial HospitalHere is an interesting exercise that I recommend hospital marketers to try out with their colleagues in the hospital. Select a group of 30 individuals working in the hospital, preferably those who handle customers. Include in the group a few medical folks, doctors, nurses, front office executives, billing executives, F&B personnel and a few guys from housekeeping. Ask them simple questions on what the hospital brand means to them.

You would be surprised with the variety of answers you are likely to get.

All marketers try and look for a unique customer proposition for their hospitals, one which they believe the hospital delivers to its customers. The proposition is carefully selected after many a long ‘brain storming’ sessions involving the hospital’s leadership team, the branding and communications experts from advertising agencies pitching for the lucrative account. After these hectic sessions what often emerges is a positioning statement, which is than condensed into the hospital baseline, which is than incorporated in the logo of the hospital. It is in essence the consumer promise, which than is communicated to the external world in right earnest. However, what they fail to do is communicate this promise with the same vigour and zeal with customer facing employees, who are actually tasked with delivering this promise.

Let me take examples from two hospitals, where I used to work.

Artemis Health Institute in Gurgaon says that it is all about the ‘art of healthcare’. Max Healthcare similarly professes to be ‘caring for you …for life’. Artemis believes that its services are differentiated from other hospitals because it focuses on the softer side of medicine. The arguement is that the best infrastructure and world class medical faculty is a given, and easy to replicate. What really distinguishes this hospital from others is not what it delivers but how it delivers. Similarly Max Healthcare is all about superlative care, what the hospital calls ‘patient centric care’. It prides itself in delivering great patient care at all customer touchpoints and at every patient interaction.

Now these are indeed lofty goals. I would even go ahead and aver that when these hospitals were being conceived and set up, the founding teams did believe in these ideals. The hospital communication program was designed to put across these differentiations and a fair amount of energy and effort was expanded in developing communication, which helped establish the hospital’s core values. However, and here is the nub of the matter, these hospitals just did not do enough to communicate these values to their own folks down the line who were actually supposed to deliver these sterling objectives.

In the initial days of commencing operations the hospitals did make an effort to train people in handling and treating patients as customers. However, the initial enthusiasm waned soon enough, competition poached many a well trained individuals and somewhere in the hurly burly of running large hospitals the idealism of the past gave way to an all pervading cynicism. Training individuals in the ideals and core beliefs of the hospital became a chore and the trainers too lost their passion.Thus the marketing promise, the all important differentiator remains only in the minds of resolute brand managers who faithfully continue to reproduce these lines with the hospital logos and the colours.

Unfortunately, this is true of most hospitals I know. A brand promise must be delivered unerringly and all the time. For, which hospitals must spend time and serious effort in keeping the promise alive amongst those who are supposed to deliver it a million times everyday.

Pic courtesy