Thursday, November 25, 2010

Indian Healthcare Needs to Mature, Fast!

That's the kind of call I always dreaded receiving.
A few days back, at about noon, just as we were relaxing for a lazy weekend ahead, I received a call that Neeti's Pa had suffered a major heart attack that morning.
I was shell shocked, it hit me hard. I thought "How could this happen to us?"
It was even more surprising because Papa was extremely conscious of his health and has been a stickler on having the right kind of diet.
Immediately we rushed to book tickets on the internet to be in Delhi with them. Despite all the progress we all claim to have made, connectivity in the country is still woeful and pathetic. The earliest flight we could get was at 6PM, a good 5 hours away. Those were a testing 5 hours!
We landed on time thankfully and proceeded straight to the hospital, reaching there at 9 PM. Neeti was quickly ushered in to meet Papa. She came out in 5 minutes and I was relieved to see the furrows on her forehead gone.
Papa was fine. He had just had a light dinner and was settling for the night with a slight pain from the procedures that had been done. We were assured by all that he was out of any kind of danger and the pendulum was fast returning to its mean position.
It was Mom's presence of mind that ensured that the situation remained under control. She rushed Papa to hospital within 30 minutes of the attack.
Neeti and I stayed back in the hospital at night. It was indeed shocking to see how tough it is for relatives of patients to manage. Having to make do with high handedness of hospital staff and attendants being forced to buy pricey food and beverages from the "official" cafeteria is really a pathetic experience.

While we were in the hospital, I observed quite a few Kashmiris, Afghans, Iranians, Africans and whites who had come to this hospital for treatment - I witnessed medical tourism, one of India's emerging industries, right in front of my eyes.

But I also wondered why Kashmiris were here for treatment? They claim to hate India, some want azaadi and some want to amalgamate with Pakistan. Doesn't Pakistan have hospitals, why can't they go there? Or is it that they want best of what India has to offer, but want to keep the rhetoric alive? Or are they plain hypocritical? If they hate India, they should not come here to Delhi to get treated, they should travel across the LOC instead.
Gradually, as Papa was recovering, the insurance claim process was initiated. I was pretty confident that since he was insured by a public sector insurance company, the claim process would be smooth. But I was informed by Neeti and my sister-in-law that the TPA, which was founded by one of India's leading insurance agents and connected to Bollywood's first families - one of yesteryears and the other today, was creating massive issues preventing a cashless settlement - all those excuses were made up. After each query was resolved a fresh one was made in quick succession making it apparent that those supposed to provide the suRaksha were doing the exact opposite. What is the point of having a cashless facility, when the family of the patient has to run around in virtual agony to get the claim process initiated?

Finally we had to concede - agree to not taking a cashless facility.

Clearly there is a case for IRDA to examine the (mal)practices the TPAs and insurers have been following for so long and give some respite to the hapless patients and families.

Frankly, it is a real pain to fall seriously ill in this country. First the hospitals and the doctors will fleece you, ensuring that the medical bills run in to pages, let alone ancillary charges. Then the insurer and the TPA will virtually make the relatives sick from stress.

In short, if you are in India, try to never fall sick, for if you do, your family will go through an ordeal of stress and anxiety that could bring them to a brink! For sure, our healthcare systems need to mature.

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