MUMBAI: “Do you know hospitals charge patients for the hand sanitizer kept outside the recovery room? Doctors and nurses use it for the few hours or days that the patient is in the room, but the patient pays for the entire bottle.” Consumer activist Asha Idnani’s outburst against the healthcare system doesn’t end here. She points out that some hospitals charge patients for the rubber lining put on the bed, the 44-odd pairs of gloves used in an operation and for entire strips of tablets even if the patient has only consumed two.
“Don’t we own the rubber lining if we pay for it? And how do we know that 44 pairs of gloves were used,” she asked.
Idnani isn’t the only Indian upset with the private healthcare system, where 70% of Indians seek medical aid. Two petitions filed in the Bombay high court by patients who were allegedly detained in hospitals over disputed bills underline this sentiment. An Australian doctor and several Indian experts wrote in the British Medical Journal about the rampant corruption in India’s medical system (TOI editions dated June 27 and 28).
Clearly, on the occasion of Doctor’s Day on July 1, there couldn’t have been a clearer indication of the poor state of the doctor-patient relationship. On Sunday, state health minister Suresh Shetty underlined the equation at a function organised by the Association of Medical Consultants (AMC): “Like education barons, doctors will become a hated community if they don’t stop unethical practices.”
The medical community is predictably upset. AMC’s Dr Lalit Kapoor said every patient complaint should be better investigated and “you will find a person who is reluctant to pay”. A senior doctor said, “If healthcare has become a shop, it is because the government treats it like one. We pay commercial rates for water, electricity charges and loan interest, but are expected to be noble and not demand money from patients.”
Dr Ramesh Potdar, a founding member of the Centre for the Study of Social Change in Bandra, however, admitted that overbilling is a “growing problem” in his sphere. “But I still think it is limited to 30% of the practitioners. The majority are still ethical,” he added.
Experts felt that the government had allowed the private sector to remain unregulated for long. “We are now reaping the fruits of the fact that we had a policy of having no policy,” said Dr Abhay Shukla of the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes.
What could be the solution? Dr Potdar advised the medical fraternity to self-regulate. Dr Shukla said the government should make demanding or providing commission a crime. “It should take steps to regularise rates in hospitals, thereby reducing the scope for commissions,” he added.