The Aftermath

While the slug-fest between the government of Delhi and private healthcare providers, the Indian Medical Association/Delhi Medical Association and a completely partisan media continues, one is left wondering about the possible aftermath of this ugly episode. The media will soon move on to other stories and the government having scored some brownie points and having successfully demonstrated its ‘might’ will look at another vote-catching device, only the citizens of Delhi will be stuck with a much worse healthcare system.

Let us look at some of the reasons for this.

With the kind of sheer hostility that is being shown by the consumers towards private healthcare and individual doctors, many are already talking about not accepting seriously sick patients. Their fear is that if the patient dies in the hospital, they will be blamed for the death and they run the very real risk of being publicly abused by vicious and ignorant television anchors, beaten up by patient attendants and may be sacked from their jobs. In an environment where the media and the patients believe that it is the doctor’s job to get them well and that he is fair game if the outcome is not the desired one, we are clearly telling our doctors not to treat patients where there is a risk of failure. This will indeed be very sad because as patients we must give our doctors the confidence and the strength to fight the good fight to the best of their skills and ability. That trust is the very basis of the practice of medicine.

The advent of private healthcare had also seen some of the best and the brightest Indian doctors returning to India to work in these corporate hospitals. The world over, Indian doctors and nurses are recognized for their skills and diligence. There is much demand for them all over the world. The prevailing atmosphere of distrust and antipathy is already making many of them uneasy. Many have started regretting their decision to return and work in India. Many who were contemplating to return would now prefer to stay put. Many who had plans to go abroad for training, would now look at ways to bring their plans forward and try to stay abroad longer. One can hardly blame them.

Private hospitals are beginning to realize that it is far more important to have paperwork and video recordings of their patient interactions rather than a caring system, where people are encouraged to go the extra mile to help a patient. Since, the hospitals are not sure when they may be facing a media or a court trial, they will ensure that they are well protected at all times. This will further push up the cost of private healthcare. The undue activism visible today will end up defeating its own purpose.

Setting up and running hospitals is an expensive proposition. Only investors with very deep pockets can build the required infrastructure and sustain operations till they see profits, which happen years later and are meager in any case. If the local governments pandering to their vote-bases arbitrarily decide to shut down hospitals, why would investors put in money to build healthcare infrastructure in the country? The government spends on healthcare are in any case minuscule and compare poorly even with sub-Saharan Africa. The government hospitals are already over-crowded, mismanaged, filthy and without much accountability. If the private investors decide that investing in healthcare is not well worth the risk, where will the people like you and me go for our healthcare needs? If I was planning to set up a hospital in Delhi today, I would certainly think twice.

Working for some of the leading ”corporate” hospitals in India in the last 15 years, I have had the opportunity to travel the world. Everywhere that I have traveled, I have been uniformly asked one question, which is, how has Indian private healthcare system evolved so well. Considering the country’s other developmental parameters, private healthcare, which attracts patients from all over the world (Max Healthcare received patients from 80 countries across the world this year) stands out. Not only is the quality of health care compares well with the world’s best, the costs are the lowest. Ironically, instead of taking pride in our achievements, we are trying our best to run down our hospitals and the people who work in them.

Private healthcare players in Delhi are quite dumb-founded by the political grandstanding, the unwarranted hostility of an ignorant media and worse of all the support of ordinary citizens to this madness. Are we, the citizens of Delhi willing to pay this kind of steep price just because we believe the half-truths being peddled by self-serving politicians and a biased, unprincipled media?

PS: Might be a good idea to find out where these same politicians and media warriors and their families go to when they need serious healthcare. No prizes for guessing though.

The views expressed are personal.