Connecting Better with Patients Works Wonders

Hospital_bedside_caring2

Most doctors I know are reticent with their patients. Curiously the better they are at the work they do, the greater the reticence. They will walk over to the patient’s bed, look at the charts, confer with their colleagues, instruct the nurses, maybe inquire from the patient about how they are doing, mumble a few reassurances and then they are gone. The patient is often left pining for more information and hoping that their doctor would spend a little more time with them, maybe even share a light-hearted moment to lighten a grim day or just hold their hand for a while.

While medical outcomes do matter in the end, a doctor’s ability to connect with his patients is what matters during their stay in the hospital. I recall how Dr. Harsha Hegde a former colleague and a orthopaedics and spine surgeon would interact with his patients on his rounds. I have seen him checking on his patients, while chatting up with them on all manner of things. He would walk into a room, chat up with the patient about anything under the sun, engage with the patients as a friend, assure them that they will be out of the bed soon, crack a joke or two and in the same breath pass on the necessary instructions to the nurses or other colleagues. I even recall on many occasions, he would invite a patient out for dinner in the evening, particularly the day before the patient would be ready for discharge from the hospital!!!

Once we had a patient from the US, a school inspector if I recall correctly. He had come in pain and required a two level cervical disc replacement surgery. Dr. Hegde, duly operated on him and one evening as I was heading home, I saw him in the hospital lobby with the patient. Apparently, Dr. Hegde was taking him out for dinner !!! The patient too appeared to be in a state of shock, saying that he could hardly believe his luck. Three days back he had arrived from the US suffering from excruciating pain, and here he was heading out for a dinner with his doctor, who already seemed to have wrought a miracle.

While, what Dr. Hegde does is exceptional, most patients would be happy with a lot less. When the doctors start connecting with their patients, the patients also tend to be a lot more forgiving. A nagging unexplained pain, a sudden unexpected turn for the worse, a longer than planned stay in the hospital, and even a bigger bill are forgiven if the patient believes that their doctor was nice to them.

These patients than start spreading the good word around. They often exaggerate their experiences, the doctor turns into that wonderful knight in shining armour, who came riding on a mythical horse and saved them from the jaws of death. The doctor becomes a true saviour, capable of doing nothing wrong and the hospital too acquires a nice and warm halo. These patients are truly a healthcare marketer’s delight, they are the ones who do all the marketing and the doctor’s reputation and the number of patient’s queuing up outside their door goes up exponentially. The doctor loves it, the hospital loves it and of course the patients love it as well.

On the other hand, a very good surgeon with excellent outcomes, but with a grumpy, matter of fact style, would always be a lesser surgeon in the eyes of the patient. While, the patients would be happy with the excellent outcomes, they would always add a line saying that the doctor is rather ‘difficult’. And, here not surprisingly the patients would find many things wrong with the hospital as well. For some strange reason they will find that the nurses do not respond on time, that the food served is rather cold and bland, the pain relief offered to the patient is poor and the hospital overcharges for everything !

Life in a hospital is such. However, I do have a hunch, doctors, who connect with their patients better, also help in faster healing. The patients probably recover quicker and better, they return homes in a better and happier frame of mind and ultimately, that is really what truly matters.

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Views on Preventive Surgery

Angelina JolieAngelina Jolie has now ignited a world-wide debate on Preventive Surgery. Can Surgery be really preventive? Is it worth going under the knife and suffer serious mutilation, only to prevent a disease, which may or no may not happen? Is it really wise to take the risk of surgery, when one is perfectly healthy, just to beat the odds that may or may not even exist? Where is medicine headed?

Angelina Jolie believed that she had a very high chance of developing breast cancer. She had seen her mother suffer and die from the dreaded disease, research indicates that it is possible to inherit breast cancer and she was given some fantastic odds of developing breast cancer in the future. From her perspective, she took the right decision of going ahead with a double mastectomy to beat what she believes are near certain odds of developing breast cancer. At the end of the day, it is her body and she has every right to undergo a surgery that she feels will help her prevent a deadly disease in the future. Anybody who has a quarrel with this position, I believe really has no case.

However, this does throw up interesting questions.

First let us begin with the odds that were offered to Ms. Jolie. I am not sure if we have enough data to give iron-clad probabilities of developing a disease. Science hasn’t really progressed, where it can say with reasonable certainty that an individual will develop a cancer with pin-point accuracy. Thus, how right it is to tell Ms. Jolie that the chances of her developing breast cancer are in the upper nineties. The number crunching at the end of the day is still really number crunching only. To decide to operate based on nebulous odds is hard to justify. Wouldn’t regular screening through high-end mammogram suffice? Do doctors now have the ability to look at the crystal ball and predict the future occurrence of a disease with near certainty? I am not so sure at all.

Second, does this mean that now many women with a history of this and other dreaded diseases opt for preventive surgical interventions? More importantly, is such aggression right? I believe this may trigger an avalanche of unnecessary surgery. As it is, the worst kept secret in medicine is that the quantum of surgery we presently do is much more than what is really needed. Now, with patients asking doctors for preventive surgical interventions, where are we really headed? The surgeons, who would want to be more prudent, may lose out on surgical work as their more scalpel happy colleagues will be happy to take up cases refused by their more conservative colleagues. Since, patients themselves will be keen on surgical interventions, it would really take a lot for a surgeon to say that he won’t operate because he believes surgery is not indicated. Do we really need this situation, where surgeons may be operating only because patients are keen on it !

Third, isn’t there a moral dimension to preventive surgeries as well. Performing surgery on a healthy individual, who may develop a disease later in life is fraught with moral hazard. Every surgery howsoever small comes with an inherent risk. The risk is of human error as well as of infections and unexpected complications. Should a healthy individual be subject to these risks in the here and now, only to prevent what may happen in the future? In Ms. Jolie’s case, mastectomy and subsequent reconstruction of the breasts are fairly complex surgeries. They do run significant risks. Are these risks higher or lower than those represented by the occurrence of breast cancer in the future?

Finally, who should decide whether a preventive surgery is needed or not. Should a patient ask for it, pretty much like a preventive health check. Should a surgeon operate, only because the patient is keen on it?

In my view there shouldn’t be anything called Preventive Surgery. We should operate to cure and not prevent future events. The fear of an uncertain future, must not dictate what we do in the present. This is where, I stand on this debate.

Great Experiences and Brand Promises – Lessons from Indigo Airlines

Indigo”It is time you packed-up and left for the airport. You are on Indigo and they always leave on time”, said my colleagues at work. I was in Bangalore and had a busy day at work. I was trying to cram in as much as I possibly could in the day and I guess, I was getting late for my flight to Delhi. In any case, with the way the Bangalore traffic these days is, reaching the airport is akin to a lottery.

The Gods were kind that day, Mr David managed to get me to the airport well in time and, sure enough, Indigo boarded right on the dot. However, much to our chagrin we learnt that there would be some delay before we took off. Soon after being air-borne we had the captain on the PA system, proudly telling us that though we had departed Bangalore 10 minutes behind schedule (and it was all because of the congestion at the airport), he was quite hopeful of getting us into Delhi on time. He explained the benefits of a friendly tail-wind assisting us in the journey and also how he would try his best to get us on ground in Delhi on schedule.

It was soon evident that we had a chatty captain, who would tell us that we could see the lights of Hyderabad towards our right and that we were over Jaipur and were cruising over 33000 ft. The captain kept us engaged. He was never intrusive, but I did observe that in almost all announcements that he made, he did refer to the fact that we were likely to reach our destination on time. The crew also kept reminding us that an ón-time’ performance was their paramount goal. They urged us not to leave any waste around, so that they can turn around the aircraft faster for the next flight. It seemed that the crew was really focused and keen to get us to Delhi on time.

As soon as we touched down in Delhi, the crew announced that we have indeed arrived a little before schedule. They seemed to be genuinely pleased with their performance and wore big smiles. As I headed out of the aircraft, I noticed the captain standing just outside the door of the flight deck, wishing passengers the time of the day and amicably chatting with his crew. The captain and the crew looked like a wonderful team to me, who had enjoyed flying us to Delhi that evening and were genuinely happy that they managed to get us to our destination well in time.

This episode left me wondering how difficult it really is to conjure up this kind of experience every time Indigo takes flight, day in and day out. This would mean hundreds of flights everyday, flying thousands of passengers and ensuring a steady and consistent experience delivered through thousands of employees. No wonder, Indigo is one of the most successful airline in the country and their brand promise is synonymous with timely flights.

And since, I work for in healthcare, where a great experience is perhaps so much more important, it left me wondering, why most hospitals in India fail to deliver a consistent experience that can become their calling card. Unfortunately, we still do not have hospitals, which can deliver some if not all experiences in a pre-defined and consistent manner. Is there any hospital in India, which can claim that the OPD’s in its hospitals always begin on time, or where patients with prior appointments don’t have to wait or where physicians see off patients at their doors? Or, where patients are uniformly greeted by the staff at the front office, always treated with courtesy and where compassion counts for more than anything else?

I am aware that this is no easy task. Unlike passengers in an aircraft, patients are sick people, some are in life threatening situations, many are in the hospital for the first time in their lives and are truly unsure of what to expect. I also understand that unlike the airline, patients in a hospital will be staying for several days, they will be interacting with a multitude of people (doctors, nurses, paramedics,housekeeping, F&B services, general maintenance, billing etc.) and it is so much more difficult to synchronize all of these interactions into one great experience, which can be crystallized into a succinct and powerful brand promise.

However, hospitals, which hope to build a brand for themselves must start looking at ways and means of doing this. They must meld their varied customer interactions into one great experience that a customer can expect even before she enters the hospital. The true power of a hospital brand will only be unleashed, when it will learn to deliver that one experience again and again, every time that a patient walks through its door.

Marketing a Cancer Service

cancerCan a cancer service be effectively marketed?

Well, to someone who has dealt with cancer either as a patient or a caregiver, the very idea of marketing a cancer service is appalling, even grotesque. Cancer is often looked upon as the ultimate misfortune, a death sentence if ever there was one and juxtaposing a ‘commercial’ term like marketing with it sounds revolting. Yet, we know that in India there are cancer hospitals aplenty, many of them with great expertise and technology at their disposal, but sadly not many effectively engage with their patients beyond the mandatory sessions of chemo or radiation therapy.

Yet, I believe good cancer centres, need to have an effective engagement program with cancer patients and the care-givers. More than anything else, they need to connect with patients and help them understand their disease better, engage with them as partners in the fight that lies ahead and inspire them to beat the great odds  stacked against them. They also need to connect with the care-givers, help lighten their burden of fear and doom at the likely loss of a near and a dear one. Most of all, cancer centres need to give hope and courage to both the patients and care-givers in a world suddenly drained of light and good health.

A good cancer service should aim to constantly engage with its local community. It should help educate about the preventive aspects of the disease. Many oral cancers are completely preventable. Shunning tobacco, eliminates cancer – a simple message if communicated effectively can prevent almost all oral cancers. Extended exposure to known carcinogens such as pesticides, heavy metals or radiation also causes cancers. Avoiding these by taking sensible precautions can help reduce the incidence of cancer.Similarly, the chances of having cervical cancer can be significantly reduced by early vaccination against the disease.

Yet, I have not come across many hospitals running effective mass campaigns against tobacco use or creating awareness about cervical cancer vaccinations. I believe, in the fight against cancer, that is an opportunity wasted.

There are of course, cancers, which have nothing to do with lifestyle factors. They can hit unexpectedly (like the Germ Cell Carcinoma, that ravaged Yuvraj Singh) and there is little one can do to prevent them. However, in our arsenal are now medicines that can effectively combat these deadly cancers, if only we could diagnose and treat them early. Fortunately, we now also have advanced scanners that can detect tumours the size of a few cells, and raise a red flag. Yet, not many cancer services talk about early detection and encourage people to go for regular testing. A good cancer service must connect with the local community and relentlessly drive home the point that a cancer can be beaten by detecting it early.

The cancer service must also understand the fear that the word cancer causes in a person. Many people have an irrational fear of getting themselves screened for cancers. Good cancer services should develop engagement programs, which gently nudge people to shed their fear of the unknown and go for these screenings.

Fighting cancer requires true courage, uncommon grit and determination. The treatment regimen is often debilitating and painful. More than the physical pain, the sheer magnitude of the struggle against a deadly foe, with unknown odds is often difficult to bear. Cancer patients undergoing therapy, need hope and courage to overcome the disease. A good cancer service must realize that even if the disease succeeds in breaking a man, it must not be allowed to break his spirits. A cancer service, which offers hope and a steady hand is the one, which will connect with cancer patients the best.

Cancer Hospitals owe it to themselves as well as their local communities to constantly engage with each other and fight cancer. At Fortis Hospitals in Mumbai, we have for the last couple of months been doing exactly that. The hospitals recently completely a very successful campaign on cervical cancer screenings called ”Teal to Heal” (http://www.fortishealthcare.com/india/Teal_to_Heal.php), are presently running a cancer campaign, which features cancer survivors, sharing their inspiring stories of early struggle and success in beating back cancer. The stories are true and full of hope. The next phase of the campaign, will take up the fight against tobacco.

I do wish, there were more hospitals joining the fight against cancer by engaging their local communities. We can only win, if we fight together.

The Story of a World Record on the World Heart Day

World Heart Day was on Sept 29th this year and I was on tenterhooks.

Fortis Healthcare was aiming to create a Guinness World Records (GWR) record of the maximum cholesterol tests done in a city on a single day and I was nervous. We had been preparing for this day for the last four weeks and the day of reckoning was here.

The previous night I had slept late, mentally going through a check-list of things that we had closed, wondering about all that which may go wrong and hoping for the best the next day. Once, I had ticked off most things on  my mental check-list, I slept well and was up bright and early. It was time to see how the last 4 weeks of intense effort would now fructify.

The idea to attempt a world record of cholesterol tests came from Dr. Ashok Seth, the Chairman of Cardiac Sciences, at Fortis in New Delhi. Dr. Seth knows how to throw a challenge to the team. My colleague Jasrita and I had met him to discuss about the World Heart Day and Dr. Seth immediately threw down the gauntlet. He got us excited and committed. He got us thinking and wondering. A simple cholesterol test can serve as a warning sign for heart disease, we can use the test as a marketing device to create awareness about the disease. We hoped to get a few thousand people to come (fasting) to our hospitals on a warm Saturday morning to get their cholesterol levels checked.

Jasrita, Arnab and I got down to serious work. We had to plan and organise the campaign, get the hospitals excited and aligned, find a media partner who can drive home the message and have a diagnostic lab join hands with us in doing the physical testing. Fortis has more than half a dozen hospitals in the National Capital Region, who had to come on-board to participate in the activity. Most importantly, we had to find the money for a big campaign like this.

The Partners

Crayons

We roped in our advertising agency in Delhi as the key partner in developing the communication and for media planning. Crayons, has been working for many years and the CEO of Crayons, Ranjan has been a personal friend for over a decade. The Fortis team and the Crayons team met in their office for a detailed briefing. We took them through the idea, they loved it and saw great possibilities. They were raring to go. Two weeks later, Jasrita and Arnab trooped into my office with the first set of creatives, neatly printed and mounted on boards. The agency was surely putting its best foot forward. Also, they had churned out a lot of work. We had 4 different communication routes and tonnes of creatives. Jasrita, Arnab and I went through all the material calmly, debated and discussed each route and decided to sleep on it. I also asked Arnab to leave it lying around in my office overnight. We also agreed that, while we were attempting a World Record, it would not be appropriate for us to talk about it in our advertising.

The next morning we again went over the entire pile. We discarded two routes and shortlisted two for further discussions with Dr. Seth and Ashish, who is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Fortis. We met them on a Wednesday afternoon in Ashish’s office and took them through the ideas and the creatives. We unanimously agreed on a creative route. The die was now cast. Jasrita, Arnab and I would later fine tune the communication, pour over commas and full stops and agonize over every word written in the copy of the communication. We needed to get it just right and we knew that even a single word left out-of-place can leave a bad taste in the mouth.

The Hindustan Times

The Hindustan Times group is the second largest media company in the country and they rule Delhi. We called in the HT team for a briefing early on. They loved the idea as well. Of course, they were keen on our business as these are lean times for folks in the media business, but I would like to believe that they liked the idea more than the commercials. I have always believed that a partner delivers the best, when they buy in an idea. This is exactly what we did with the HT team. Of course, it helped that I knew them well as HT is my former employer and these guys are friends. While we negotiated hard, they eventually gave us a great deal.

SRL Diagnostics

SRL Diagnostics is a subsidiary of Fortis and is the largest diagnostic chain in the country. Jasrita worked hard with them to agree to collecting more than 10000 samples from 20 odd locations spread across the NCR. They were really a difficult bunch and the logistics of the exercise had to be meticulous. The last thing we wanted was to have people having a bad experience while giving samples, or the samples getting mixed up or reporting going haywire. Jasrita nailed everything down. Our favorite term during these days was ”idiot-proof”. We planned to make the entire process idiot-proof, dumb it down so that even the last person in the line should have no difficulty in understanding the process and following it. We meticulously calculated the number of phlebotomists needed at all the sample collection facilities, provided each of them with clear directions and fervently hoped that all will turn-up at the appointed hour. Jasrita wrote mails after mails detailing out a simple process over and over again so that everyone understood.

Guinness World Records (GWR)

Guinness World Records has a process for every record. They sent us reams of information about what all they needed to certify our record. They made us go nuts with their demands about arranging assessors, video-recording of all the sessions, the strict time-keeping, physical inspections of the sites and finally collection and evaluation of all the data. Boy, they are really thorough. They made us go through hoops but we complied on every single count. Jasrita, handled them adroitly, understood their detailed instructions and passed them on faithfully to the operations team. We were always fearful that we may fall foul of their elaborate process and miss out on the record on a technicality. What a pity that would have been.

The BTL Folks

We had a couple of ”Below the Line’ marketing agencies supporting us. They promoted the concept of a free cholesterol test directly to consumers. They went around parks looking for morning walkers, spread awareness in the hospital neighborhoods by distributing pamphlets and getting people to sign on for the test. Thus, one afternoon my wife and I were accosted by a young man at a Barista Coffee Shop, who explained to me what a cholesterol test was and how I can get one done free on Sept 29th at a Fortis facility. Bravo!, we both gladly registered.

Salt Mango Tree

You may wonder, what they are. Salt Mango Tree is in fact our agency for digital advertising. They trawl the internet for us. They also run our digital campaigns. For World Heart Day they promoted us on the Google sites, Facebook and Twitter. They created excitement in the digital world and got us a huge fan following on the net.

While, we had the partners lined up, a big challenge was to get each hospital charged up. We called meetings of the sales people from all the hospitals and, explained to them what we were attempting and asked them to contribute. Each hospital came up with ideas on getting folks to come to the hospital to give their samples. We met many times as a group, discussed progress, new ideas and revised plans. Goals were set, targets were mutually agreed upon and shared. The teams came together. The Corporate Sales teams too joined in. The word spread. We loved it. Aditya Vij, who is the CEO of Fortis Healthcare spoke with me. His big concern understandably was not the record but the customer experience that we were geared to deliver the next day. I assured him that we were ready.

Sept 29th 2012

I reached Fortis Escorts Heart Institute at around 0630 in the morning. I ran into Ashish, who too was wandering in. We had asked him to be the first donor of the day. The program was to begin at 7 in the morning and end at 1230. Even at 0630, we had the waiting area full, with people waiting for the tests. We began with Ashish and there was no looking back. Soon, I started receiving reports of a large turnout at almost all our facilities. The campaign had created a huge amount of excitement. We had people trooping in everywhere. Yet, the processes held up. We did not encounter any chaos anywhere.Everything went according to plan and by 11 we knew we were ahead of the existing record.

By the time we stopped at 1230, we were confident of having set a new GWR record. The GWR assessor took the entire afternoon in ascertaining our claims. He went through reams of physical data, the forms that we had collected and footage from across all our 20 locations. It was a mammoth exercise.

In the evening we assembled for a small function. The GWR representative asked Ashish to hazard a guess about the number of people who came for the test. Ashish who is usually ahead of the curve answered with a broad smile ”14161”. The GWR assessor looked a little abashed, smiled and said ”a very well-educated guess indeed”.

Medical Travel Must Come of Age

Medical Travel to India has now reached a certain level of maturity and business size and it has started getting serious attention from all manner of people. Back of the envelope calculations indicate that the opportunity today is approx. USD 500 mn and growing at least 30% or more pa. And these numbers are only the revenue that Indian Hospitals generate from patients traveling to India for medical treatment. Add to this the possible revenue from their stay in hotels in India and the airfare, we are perhaps staring at a business opportunity worth close to USD 1 bn today.

Strangely, for a business opportunity of this size, we still do not have organised players in the market. Almost all the patients traveling to India are being facilitated by small time medical travel operators, who make a commission in the process. Sadly most of these facilitators are completely unorganized, bring in patients through their personal contacts in places like Iraq and Nigeria and have very little resources to support or provide a vow experience to the patients. Many of them started as translators, who were hired by the hospitals as they received the first wave of foreign patients. They interacted with these hapless patients and earned their trust, branched off on their own and started getting patients referred by those who had come earlier.

While, these folks have so far done a reasonable job of patient facilitation, the time is ripe for the advent of the new generation of medical travel operators. These would in all likelihood be young entrepreneurs, tech-savvy and more in tune with the needs of our ”experiences” driven service economy. They would probably be initially supported by some of the larger Indian Hospitals, who would of course benefit immensely from foreign patients reaching their doors much better looked after. They would also hope to benefit from more patients coming through.

At Fortis Healthcare, which is India’s largest healthcare company and where I work, we are encouraging this trend. We would like to work with and support medical travel operators, who are professionally driven and are much better organised in joining us in sourcing international patients. We are identifying potential partners in various parts of the world and beginning to work with them in an effort to create a new and a different kind of eco-system. Hopefully, this would allow for a far better and a completely seamless experience to the patients who are traveling to us from all parts of the world.

I also believe that very soon we will have large travel operators also entering the business. The business case is so compelling that they can not really afford to stay out. Recent reports have indicated that Thomas Cook has decided to enter the market and I have had several discussions with Abercrombie and Kent, who are already setting up the medical travel infrastructure that they need, to roll out the business across multiple continents. They are exploring markets as far as Eastern Africa and Middle East where they are setting up information and patient facilitation centres to help connect patients to hospitals.

At the global level with medical travel destinations like Jordan and Turkey in Asia, Costa Rica and Panama in Central and Latin America, China and South Korea in the far East emerging as the new medical travel destinations (Thailand and India being there for several years now) the sky is really the limit. A global operator can easily facilitate patients into hospitals in any of these countries. Moreover, this would also provide their existing travel businesses a significant bump up as patients traveling to hospitals are usually accompanied by family and friends. Thus more air tickets and more hotel nights will directly contribute to their existing travel businesses.

Honestly, I have been quite baffled that large travel companies have so far not stepped in. My best guess is that they haven’t really looked upon medical travel as a large enough a business for them to get into. Medical travel in India has grown quietly. Not many people outside the healthcare industry, fully know about the extent of the business today even less about its potential. Also, they are is still a serious lack of awareness about the profile of medical travelers. Today we have patients in our hospitals at Fortis who have traveled thousands of miles and have come for extremely high-end medical procedures such as transplants and challenging paediatric cardiac surgeries.

Something in my bones tells me all this is about to end. Patients, should now be able to choose their hospitals and doctors anywhere in the world a lot more transparently, have their travel arrangements done professionally and receive the world’s finest medical care without the worries of a rickety and unreliable system which exists today.

Patients should be able to travel to their doctors and their hospitals a lot more sure about what they truly are getting into free of worries from everything except their medical condition.

The Importance of the Culture of Caring

Last year my father was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors devised a treatment plan, which included chemotherapy and radiation therapy. As a caregiver, I had to take my father to the hospital for his radiation sessions. I opted for an early morning slot, which would have us in the hospital at around 7 every morning. I would drive up to the porch of the hospital, find a wheel-chair, get him on the chair, leave him for a while to go and park my car and would wheel him over to the radiation department for his sessions to commence. While, the hospital employed General Duty Assistants (GDA’s), who would normally wheel patients around the hospital, their duty hours began from 8 in the morning. My routine lasted only a couple of days as I soon discovered helpful hospital security staff, who would happily wheel my father as I went to park my car.

This simple act of caring and kindness spoke eloquently about this hospital’s shared culture. Here, even the security guard at the hospital’s door exhibited behaviour, which showed that he and the hospital cared. Thus to me, he repeatedly demonstrated that in the life of the hospital, it is not only the medical folks, the doctors, the nurses and the paramedics that deliver care, it can almost be anyone.

I believe for a hospital to be successful, it is imperative it has a culture of ”caring” ingrained in its very DNA. A hospital apart from being a repository of cutting edge technology, monumental medical knowledge and expertise must essentially be a caring institution. It is true that one goes to a hospital only when laid low by a debilitating illness, that one often needs the high-end diagnostics and surgical technology that modern hospitals are crammed with, the fact remains that more than anything else, one craves for great care during this period of uncertainty.

This is largely because most patients do not understand the intricacies of their scans or the technical difficulties of their surgeries, what they do understand are simple gestures of caring and support at a difficult time in their lives.

Healthcare organisations must aim to build a distinct culture of caring. This is far easier said than done. A culture of caring must flow from the top. Every individual in the organisation must understand that aside from whatever role they have in the hospital, the biggest role that they all have is to care for the patients in the hospital. The medical folks of course grasp this naturally, they are trained to care for their patients and they are also at the forefront of the delivery of care in the hospitals. However, it is not all that easy for others. The senior management team of the hospital, must ensure that there is clear communication down the line to everyone that they have a role to play in patient care.

The hospital leadership team should also step up and demonstrate their roles in patient care. The hospital policies formulated by the leadership team should have patient care policies right at its core. The patient care initiatives should be highlighted and communicated often, and those who go the extra mile in caring for the patients should be recognized and rewarded without hesitation.

Everyone who works in the hospital should fully understand what is expected of them vis-a-vis patient care. The folks at the front office should know that they must speak with the patients politely, demonstrate caring by helping and guiding patients to various part of the hospital. The F&B service should understand that they can demonstrate care by ensuring that the food served is piping hot, tastefully presented, delivered on time and served with a smile. An extra portion of desert for a patient with a sweet tooth (and of course no Diabetes!) will also help demonstrate patient care. The house-keeping detail too can underline care by keeping the room spick and span and by dusting the corners and those hard to reach places, that hide many unseen specs of dirt.

The most important element in building a culture of caring in the hospital is by communicating. Nothing showcases the culture of caring better than a little chat, whether it is the doctor stopping by for one after her rounds, or a nurse delivering a message of hope as she goes about her work. A GDA can demonstrate care by engaging with the patient as he wheels him around the hospital, a billing clerk can do so by explaining the components of the bill and listening to patients, who believe they have been over-charged and even a valet parking service attendant can demonstrate caring by bringing over a shiny car, when the one he received from the patient was caked with dirt.

A culture of caring is also rooted in a culture of empowerment. As far as patient care goes, every individual in the hospital should be empowered to act and help deliver great care. There should be no ifs and buts here and those so empowered must clearly know, without an iota of doubt that as long as their actions  result in better patient care, they will only be appreciated.

All good hospitals know that their success and even their profits are derived from the care that they deliver. A culture of caring and empathy must be a  hospitals most cherished and enduring asset. Unlike everything else, it can not be bought, it has to be built, brick by brick, over a long period of time and then it has to be zealously guarded from complacency, which often is, ironically a by-product of the hospital’s success.