MAX Health Care : Enhancing Patient Experience

How can Indian hospitals and MVT eco-system be improved to make patients more welcome and comfortable?

















1. Hospitals should take care of all the paper-work that foreign patients need to undergo.

India attracted close to 1,50,000 medical travellers last year. This number is growing at a very healthy rate of 25% per annum. People from over 80 countries across the globe visited India last year either for rejuvenation or for the treatment of serious medical conditions. India remains in the top five preferred medical travel destination, globally. Indian hospitals largely in the private sector are busy attracting these patients to their centres.

I met Jonathan Long in Nairobi, Kenya, a little over a year ago. He had recently returned from a hospital in India, where he had undergone a kidney transplant. He looked in great health to me and that he had regained much of his health in India made me feel a great deal of pride in our medical prowess. Jonathan and I chatted over dinner and he hesitatingly told me his story.

He had been diagnosed with chronic kidney failure three years ago. He had been a diabetic for many years and may be that had something to do with his kidneys failing over a period. Jonathan started dialysis in Nairobi and managed a near normal life for almost three years. He was advised a kidney transplant, which he couldn’t get done in Kenya and after some hesitation chose to travel to India. His sister agreed to donate one of her kidneys, and accompanied him to New Delhi for the surgery.

Jonathan chose India without too much difficulty. He had heard of the reputation of Indian doctors, knew that he could afford the surgery in India and since he spoke English, he figured he had little to worry about. Jonathan wrote to multiple hospitals in India, all of them responded quickly assuring him of complete treatment and a pleasant stay in India.
Jonathan decided on a hospital in New Delhi basis their quick and solicitous responses to his queries. He did visit the hospital’s website and found a lot there that he liked. The hospital sent him a visa invitation, he visited the Indian embassy in Nairobi and after some struggle did manage to get a medical visa for his treatment. He was now all set and even a little excited to travel to India for his surgery.

After reaching Delhi, as Jonathan stepped out of the airport, he tried finding the gentleman who was supposed to pick him up from the airport. He was no-where to be found. Jonathan could not make calls as his phone did not have a roaming service, so he waited. He was soon surrounded by all manner of people – taxi drivers,

people asking him about where he needed to go, offering to take him to different hospitals in the city, where they claimed he could get his surgery even cheaper. Jonathan patiently waited and luckily his pick-up turned up after a harrowing hour.

Jonathan breathed a sigh of relief, when he saw the hospital. He was quickly admitted after the verification of his documents. The next few days passed in a blur with a battery of tests that were done in preparation for his surgery. Strangely after that he was discharged from the hospital and asked to wait for a date for his surgery. Jonathan was told that more paper-work and committee clearances were needed for surgery to be scheduled. He was quite surprised with this unexpected difficulty, no one had prepared him for this. The hospital people directed him to a ‘concierge service’, which arranged for him a stay in a ’guest house’ near the hospital. The guest house, while cheap was not very clean and had a general rundown look about it.

Jonathan had to continue with his dialysis for which he would visit the hospital regularly. Every visit he would enquire about the chances of getting his surgery done. He would get vague answers from the hospital staff and this made him anxious. His reserves of cash were fast depleting, he was miles away from home, amongst complete strangers and he just did not know what awaited him. The stress of a serious medical condition and the uncertainty about the future made him fretful.

This lasted for almost two weeks, weeks that Jonathan says were the worst of his life. He eventually got to meet his surgeon, who told him that all the paper-work was done and gave him a date for surgery. Jonathan underwent the surgery, which was quite uneventful. He spent over a week recuperating in the hospital, his surgery was quite successful. Jonathan figured that his troubles were over.

Jonathan was now ready for discharge from the hospital. Right at the beginning of his engagement with the hospital he had been given an estimate, which he was told was a good approximation of his final bill. However, when he saw the final bill, it exceeded the estimates provided to him even though to the best of his knowledge he had no complications or additional stay in the hospital. The hospital staff, very friendly and solicitous till now definitely turned colder and explained to him that the extras in his bills pertained to some immuno-suppressant injections that he had been given, which were not included in the estimates. He ardently wished someone had told him of this, right at the beginning.

Jonathan settled his bills and left the hospital and flew back home a week later. His health was now much better and he was quite grateful to his surgeon and medical team. However, he did feel that his experience in India was a mixed bag, good in parts only.

Indian hospitals, while providing very good medical care, often miss out on small things that matter to a medical traveller. Most of them are just not equipped to handle the service elements, which are essential in making the medical traveller’s experience complete. To make matters worse, the Indian missions abroad are not fully cognizant of the needs of a medical traveller and often treat him as they would treat a regular tourist. This doesn’t help either.


















2. At the international airports in India, there must be a welcome lounge for patients arriving from all over the world.

We need to do much better. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Medical travellers to India need an authentic, comprehensive and most importantly neutral source of information about Indian hospitals. This would allow them to compare hospitals clinical services, the past record of their prospective clinicians and the international patient services available at the hospital. They could possibly view past patient testimonials and even call some of the other patients to seek their help and guidance. All this would ensure that this journey is an informed voyage and not a leap of faith.
  2. The Indian embassies abroad must have a different approach and a set of rules for providing medical visas. For seriously sick patients, the process should be faster and as hassle-free as possible.
  3. At the international airports in India, there must be a welcome lounge for patients arriving from all over the world. They should be received at this lounge, go through swift immigration clearances and hospital representatives should be allowed to pick-up their respective patients from this lounge itself. This would save the patients the trouble of being exposed to all manner of individuals trying to ‘grab’ them from the airport.
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    3. The Indian embassies abroad must have a different approach and a set of rules for providing medical visas.
  4. Indian hospitals should ideally have a desk at the international airports to receive the patients. This allows for a smooth transfer of the patients to the hospitals, without any mishap.
  5. The international patient admission processes in the hospital should be through a green channel. The hospitals should aim for ‘bedside admissions’, with all the paper-work being done after the patient has been made comfortable in a room.
  6. Communications at the hospital is a big service gap that exists today. The hospitals must employ full-time interpreters and invest in processes that mandate regular conversations with the patient. Guest relationship managers along with interpreters should hand-hold the patients right through their time in India. They should be available to the patient not only when he is in the hospital but also when he is waiting for his surgery.
  7. Billing is a major pain point for international patients. The hospitals must give as accurate an estimate as possible to the patient before-hand. The estimate should be detailed and must cover all likely expenses. It must also explain in detail the planned course of treatment in the hospital as well as any anticipated complications that may happen. While most hospitals ensure a comfortable stay for patients, while they are admitted in the hospital, very few go beyond this. Hospitals must identify good
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    4. Hospitals must identify good guest-houses and hotels in their vicinity, which they should recommend to the patients for their stay in India.

    guest-houses and hotels in their vicinity, which they should recommend to the patients for their stay in India. These guest-houses must also invest in patient friendly amenities such as wheel-chair ramps, large elevators, anti-skid tiles and hand-rails in the bathrooms and others to ensure that the patients have an uneventful stay. Essentially, the hospitals must take the responsibility of looking after the patients not only in the hospital but right through their stay in India. Finally, the hospitals should take care of all the paperwork that foreign patients need to undergo. They should be able to help the patients with FRRO registrations and all other formalities mandated by the authorities.

  8.  Most importantly, the hospitals must have systems that allow patients to stay in touch with their doctors, even after they have returned home. Patients should have unhindered and continuous access to their doctors. This only would complete the circle.
  9. Most importantly, the hospitals must have systems that allow patients to stay in touch with their doctors, even after they have returned home. Patients should have unhindered and continuous access to their doctors. This only would complete the circle.
Anas A Wajid is director, 
sales & marketing, 
Max Healthcare.

 

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