Medical Outcomes and Customer Experiences

My father was diagnosed with an oral cancer last March. He had been staying with me in Delhi and fortunately, we had plenty of choice in selecting a hospital, where we could possibly have him treated. After carefully evaluating these choices, we zeroed in on two possible facilities –  Medanta Medicity, the new hospital in Gurgaon and Max Hospital in Saket. At Medanta the leaders of the Oncology team were my colleagues during my stint at Artemis Hospital in Gurgaon, and I enjoyed a great relationship with both Dr. Ashok Vaid and Dr. Teji Kataria, the medical and the radiation oncologists respectively. At Max Hospitals I did not know the doctors personally, they did not have a cancer facility when I worked there, but I had plenty of other close friends who ran the hospital and vouched for the caliber of their team of Dr. AK Anand and Dr. Anupama Hooda. Ultimately, with all things equal we chose Max, simply because it is closer to our home and the logistics prevailed.

This was in March and my father had since undergone Targeted Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy on an IGRT machine. Post the treatment, he is doing as well as can be expected and I am extremely grateful to the oncologists at Max Hospital. In these past 6 months, I have been visiting the facility often and have become familiar with the customer handling processes at the hospital, which unfortunately still leaves a lot to be desired. While, the medical outcome of the treatment we have received at the hospital has been good, purely as a customer, my experience with the hospital services can hardly be termed satisfactory.

Here are some suggestions as to what can be done to improve the overall hospital experience.

The Issues with Group Practice

The radiation team at Max Hospital follows a group practice system and is led by Dr. AK Anand, who comes across as an extremely competent and experienced physician. He has a fairly large team of physicians, who support him in the OPD. Now, these are mostly young physicians earning their spurs under Dr. Anand’s supervision. Since, the team works on a group practice system, a patient gets seen by any of these physicians in the OPD. Thus, more often than not it so happens that one meets a new physician whenever one visits the hospital. From a patient’s point of view, it is very disconcerting to interact with a new physician and start the entire conversation right from the beginning every time one visits the hospital OPD. Also, the entire team is not of the same pedigree, many doctors are younger, less experienced and seem to be apprenticed with Dr. Anand. They often do not come across as confident and as sure as Dr. Anand, a very important factor, when the disease involved is a cancer.

The entire system revolves around a physical file, where all the doctors jot down their noting on loose sheaf of paper, which is than filed away. Each OPD visit means that the physician assigned to see the patient goes through the file, figure out what had happened in the previous visit and issues fresh instructions on the file. I submit it is quite impossible for a physician to study this file in the time that he is spending with the patient and fully understand what has happened thus far. The chances of human error are high. Max Hospital is bristling with posters on the notice boards about a state of the art e-initiative which is supposed to take care of all medical records electronically. While one goes through the tall claims about this new system, one finds it hard to reconcile it with the archaic processes in the Max Cancer Centre.

The system seems to have been designed around the physicians, one feels it should be, in this age and time around the customers. It should assign a particular doctor to a patient and he should see the patient through. If there are junior doctors involved, they should see patients along with the seniors, till they themselves feel comfortable in handling patients on their own. The physical files are ridiculous and can be done away with completely. Like in any other modern hospital, the information should flow seamlessly on a well-connected network. Reports, instructions etc. can and should be as far as possible e-mailed to patients.

The Appointment System

Strange as it may sound the appointments given to the patients have little value. Almost all patients are required to wait for a minimum of 30-40 minutes, whether they have a confirmed appointment with their physicians or not. Because of the prevalent group practice system, it is also quite immaterial whether you have an appointment with Dr. A or Dr. B.,  you can be ushered into the office of any  doctor on the team and he will see you irrespective of the fact that you have an appointment with a particular doctor. Thus, I have not really understood, why are appointments given for any particular doctor. In this system, it would make greater sense if one was to just walk in and gets seen by which ever doctor who is free at that point in time!!!

The Files

The files are the most important element in this entire process. Sometimes I have wondered what would happen if it would be misplaced. Actually it happened with us once, when the file had been requisitioned by the medical oncologist, and it took two hours, some very heated words and a few very flustered employees to find it. In the absence of the file, I would reckon the doctors too would be quite helpless. I have been assured that the paper file does have an electronic back-up, which honestly I doubt. I shudder to think that in this age and time, at Max Hospital, we might be at the mercy of a file, which changes hands every time a doctor sees us and God forbid, if somehow it is lost in the hospital.

While all this may sound strange and terribly dated, I must say that the system somehow works. We have no complaints on the medical outcome, which is the primary reason we have been visiting the hospital. As a patient and a care-giver I do not have much to complain about. However, as a modern-day paying consumer, wouldn’t I want my hospital experience to be far superior and fool-proof than what it is.

Hospitals must understand that in this age of customer experiences, it isn’t the medical outcome alone that counts. Max should know this better than anyone else.

The Afghans at Max Healthcare

I have been in and out of the Max Hospital in Saket the last week, mainly on account of my grandmother who is admitted in the hospital’s medical ICU, trying to beat a tough infection and the kidney failure it has brought on. My grandmother is over a 100 years old and is a fighter to the core. At her age, we know her prognosis is grim, however she is not giving in-not just yet at any rate.

As I spent time in the hospital, I could not help but notice the Afghans flooding the hospital. The tall and strapping Afghans, many in their traditional dresses are easily recognisable.  Seeing so many of them using the hospital now, sent me back 5 years down the memory lane, when we had first looked at Afghanistan as a possible business opportunity.

Ashmeena Ghei,  had just taken over as the Head of International Sales and I headed Marcom as well as domestic sales with in India. Dr. Praveen Chandra had joined the interventional cardiology team and was keen to taking a medical team to Kabul. In his earlier assignment at the Escorts Heart Institute, Dr. Chandra had successfully organised many such camps. Between him and Ashmeena, we assembled the team for Kabul. Ashmeena went earlier to set up everything, the team’s stay arrangements, local hospital tie ups, publicity for the medical camp, permissions from local authorities et al. I arranged all the publicity material-getting posters and banners in Dari was a tough ask, but we got everything organised and sent to Kabul by the Indian Airlines flight, only to discover errors in camp dates!!!. I had no way of understanding what dates have been printed in the Dari script and these were discovered when our material reached Kabul. Panic hit the Delhi team and we worked overnight to correct the mistakes and resend everything.

Dr. Chandra and his team’s visit was hugely successful. They treated scores of local people and generated tremendous goodwill for the hospital. We had them on the local Tolo TV station and the local press covered the camp. Ashmeena also roped in the general sales agent of Indian Airlines based in Kabul as the local Max Healthcare representative. His office was right opposite the Indian embassy in Nowshar area of the city and this proved hugely beneficial as patients planning to travel to India could get their visas at the embassy, walk across the road to purchase their tickets and also get information about Max Hospitals. The office was inaugurated with much fanfare with new Max signboards being put up in English and Dari. We also forged a referral tie up with the local Blossoms Hospital. This was to be used for regular referrals to Max Hospitals in Delhi.

That began a small trickle of patients from Kabul. Subsequently when Ashmeena moved on, I took over from her as the Head of International business at Max Healthcare. The traffic from Afghanistan continued to grow, we appointed a few agents in Delhi who regularly brought in their patients, hired local Afghans as translators and continued sending medical teams to Kabul frequently. My successors at Max have done a fantastic job of extending the Afghan connection so much so that in December last year when my father was hospitalised in Max for prostate surgery, I received a call from the hospital’s international desk, with someone trying to hold a conversation with me in Dari!!!. Going by our Muslim  name, the desk had simply assumed that my father must be another Afghan patient admitted in the hospital.

Sitting quietly in the hospital cafeteria I could not help but watch with pride the multi-hued, multilingual and truly international set of patients using the hospital’s services.  The preponderance of the Afghans in this mix made me wonder that the seed that was planted so many years ago has grown into a big tree.

 

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

Hospitals and Luxury Hotels

posh-hospsYesterday I came across a piece in The Hindustan Times, which talked about the ‘luxury’ that a hospital now offers. The piece had snaps of fancy chefs offering a choice of cuisine to patients, nurses ‘requesting’ young patients, mostly kids to have their medication and the pretty front office executive (with her ‘May I help you badge’ in place)making ‘guests’ welcome.

This made me remember my grandmother, who is all of 104 years old narrating to me her escapades in hospitals run by the British in colonial India. She had great admiration for the no nonsense English doctors, the stern nurses, who followed orders and paid little attention to patient grievances. She remembers these episodes with a mixture of nostalgia and respect for the efficiency that this system stood for. The food was always what the doctor ordered, the medicines were given like clockwork and chores like sponging were a must-the patient had little choice in the matter.   Continue reading

Pricing Healthcare Services

healthcare-pricingThe 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.   Continue reading

The High Tech Story

ct-scanner1 I recently came across an intriguing piece of news on  the online WSJ about the efficacy of the 64 Slice CT  Scanner. I am familiar with this piece of high tech  gadgetry because I was tasked with marketing the  benefits of CT Angiograms, when Max Hospital had installed it at the Max Devki Devi Heart and Vascular Institute. I recall we were in a race with Apollo Hospitals, who had also bought  a similar machine and both of us wanted to claim that we were the first to offer CT Angios in the city of Delhi.

The WSJ piece titled ‘Doubts grow over High Tech CT Scans of the Heart’ refers to a study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology and concludes that ‘in more than 50% of the subjects, CT angiography ‘detected’ coronary obstructions that simply were not there’. The study was  funded by the Dutch government and used CT scanners made by Siemens, Philips and Toshiba.   Continue reading

Marketing Maternity Programs

maternity1Fortis La Femme, a boutique hospital for women is running a promotional campaign on a local radio station for their IVF program and the venerable Moolchand Hospital has launched ‘Mother’s Nest’ a maternity services program targeting would be parents. A full page advertisement announcing the new program was carried in HT City a few days ago.

Fortis La Femme, which was known as Cradles earlier was a brain child of Ratan Jalan, the CEO of Apollo Health and Lifestyle Ltd. (AHLL) who was my boss, when I headed marketing at AHLL. The Cradles was set up as a franchised operation and was later bought over by Fortis. It was conceived by Mr. Jalan as a high end birthing centre and has now been repositioned a s a hospital for women, with Maternity Services being one of the several service lines.

Moolchand Hospital has of course been a fixture in Delhi’s firmament for decades and is undergoing a complete makeover under the guidance of Shravan and Vibhu Talwar, the present owners. Both of them are well known to me.   Continue reading