Hospitals In India — Why we need to sit up and take note

Like many other metro cities in India, health service in my city is a deceitful beast. To the rich and connected, it is a docile and domestic animal. To the poor and ill informed, scary, ruthless and indifferent are its finer attributes.

A couple of years ago, some relatives of mine had come to my city to treat their baby daughter. She was barely three months old. She had caught a severe cold which had persisted for a week then.

The town hospital had given up on her, because of which she was then in my city. Her parents were not very well off, so a public hospital was the only option at that time. Her tiny body writhed in pain with unrestrained streams of tears flowing from her eyes as we took her to the pediatric section of a government hospital.

On reaching the hospital, mother and baby were given a bed, amidst a hundred others, consisting of babies, parents and a paltry number of medical staff.

To keep this article succinct, I will not delve into the deplorable condition of the place and facilities. Within three hours, the little baby had been punctured with three injections. Her cry of agony which had been incessant and irritating was now becoming alarmingly feeble. We were getting suspicious that the injections were more to anesthetize than to invigorate. There were a couple of junior doctors who seemed to be working on a trial and error basis, at the same time refusing to admit that they were at a loss on how to deal with the baby’s situation. Instead, they compensated for their incompetence by acting stiff and bureaucratic, answering in monosyllables, getting hot and bothered when asked the simple question, “Can you tell what is wrong with the baby?” — especially because it was time for their tea break.

As time passed, it seemed as if life was slowly draining away from the baby. The mother was terrified and in tears and I had no idea what to do next.

Never in my adult life had I felt so helpless, vulnerable and alone as I had, on that night. I wanted to know why the staff was so un cooperative, why the doctors were so unresponsive, why the baby was treated with such cavalier attitude, why she was experimented upon, instead of having followed proper procedure…

Health in India is a lethal can of worms. But after all, it is a service — a service provided to the citizens of India.

Keeping that in mind I would like to ask, whereas so many reforms have come in different service based enterprises, why is the health industry still a prehistoric heartless institution, where consumers who pay for the industry to thrive are treated with such disdain and negligence.

In this age where all the businesses are striving to give the best possible customer experience, how can the health industry think that it can get away with making us feel so small and insignificant when we deal with it.

It is probably because the currency of this conglomerate is the most expensive of all. It deals in Life. It is like the demigod that can choose who gets to die and who can be spared. That gives it an un challenge able upper hand over us.

My father says that health and education are the two things that should never be run as businesses. Ironically, they are the two domains in which maximum business is made.

When I think about how we use Zomato to rate restaurants, how we give stars to our cab drivers and co passengers as a feedback — I feel the need for a way of rating the health services. Power should be given back to the hands of the consumers and the service providers should be held accountable for their actions (or as in case of the health industry, inaction).

The problem is that, all that I have said here, may as well be an echo of what has been iterated repeatedly multiple times. They will say it’s a complicated industry — there are so many stakeholders with myriad exigencies — reforming such an institution is not easy (not possible, they might say).

To them the message is simple — stop taking undue advantage of people’s compulsion — sit up and bring about the changes that you are supposed to.

PS. The baby girl Mariam (photo above), by the grace of God, healed and is a chirpy never stay idle 3 year old. We shifted her to a private hospital that night itself. It was not easy on the pockets of her parents — but that is a different story altogether.