Unbridled interference in the functioning of a private medical sector entity will lead to corruption and unethical practices
It was quite stressful to see reports in the media that FIRs are being lodged against medical professionals by police in various states in cases of overcharging. In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, several states have initiated harsh steps against medical professionals and private sector healthcare providers, which is not the right way to deal with them.
They are not criminals. We have the National Medical Commission (NMC), which should put in place a foolproof mechanism to monitor and handle medical professionals and their establishments. There are also consumer and judicial courts to watch the interest of patients. We treat our doctors as nothing less than god but harsh acts demoralise all those medical professionals who are working very hard at this juncture by jeopardising their own lives.
The state governments have capped the treatment cost, hospitalisation charges and rates of different lab tests, which might have an adverse impact on this delicate services sector. The treatment charges vary on the basis of the quality of infrastructure, medication, efficient specialised medical professionals and facilities. The charges capped by the governments do not seem logical as these are impractical and not viable. Treatment charges vary for a set-up of 10-15-bed hospital with limited facilities in a small town and a 500-bed corporate hospital with advanced facilities in a big city.
Don’t promote Inspector Raj
Let us not err in promoting Inspector Raj in the name of monitoring. Unbridled interference in the functioning of a private medical sector entity will lead to corruption and unethical practices. Instead of helping hospitals in bridging flaws and initiating corrective measures, Inspector Raj will give a fillip to collection culture and bribe, the burden of which will directly or indirectly be passed on to patients.
We don’t have great experience in adopting an inspector approach to cleanse the system. Although it is the task of drug inspectors to check the sale of spurious drugs, why are counterfeit medicines being sold at medical stores? Adulterated eatables are being sold, which raises questions on the working and integrity of health inspectors. If a medical professional from the private sector sends COVID-19 treatment bills to the office of the Deputy Commissioner or the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) through these inspectors for vetting and clearance, one can imagine the kind of systemic rot that will creep in the whole process. The result will be an overt or covert bribe.
BMC shows the way
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has adopted a unique approach to ensure private sector healthcare providers do not overcharge COVID-19 patients nor suffer from any kind of inconvenience in seamlessly running their facilities. They have deployed 90 professional auditors to vet every bill. There is no role for any inspector from the government departments. Once the rate lists are finalised and treatment protocols are in place, the possibility of fleecing patients is minimal. However, patients always have the liberty to lodge complaints if they feel that they have been cheated by the service providers.
Private sector’s vital role
We are now living in a ‘new normal’ age, full of upsets and reverses caused by COVID-19 . It is our collective responsibility to manage the coronavirus pandemic. The role of private sector hospitals is going to be quite critical. The available data suggest that private sector healthcare is not only one of the largest employers in India but also accounts for nearly 70 percent of the total hospitals and 60 percent of the total beds in the country. As per the data available, the $150-billion Indian healthcare industry is expected to grow into an estimated $280-billion industry by 2022 due to increased demand for specialised and quality healthcare facilities.
Need to incentivise
Like other components of the services sector, the private healthcare service sector also needs to be incentivised to attract more medical tourism, which now adds an estimated $2 billion to the Indian healthcare market. According to data compiled by the Association of Indian Manufacturers of Medical Devices (AIMED), India imports nearly 80-90 percent of the medical devices — import of medical devices in FY19 grew 24 percent year-on-year to Rs 38,837 crore ($5.3 billion approx). Import duty on medical equipment, currently at 20.4 percent, must be waived. As the Central government has expanded the scope of the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme for loans up to Rs 2 crore and capped the interest rate at 7.5 percent for hospitals to set up on-site oxygen generation plants, the state governments too should extend the subsidy to all hospitals with 20 or more beds. It will be a big boost to this small but vital infrastructure in Tier II, III towns and rural areas as well.
Compassion and healthcare
Even after almost 75 years of Independence, we have not been able to infuse compassion in managing our healthcare facilities. If market dynamics are central to the working of the private sector healthcare, what needs to be done on priority is: increase investment in the private sector healthcare, regulate the sector, show zero tolerance towards medical hostage situations and ensure the protection of patients’ rights. It is time to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Doctors should also not forget that they are no less than gods for patients. They must strive to keep their dignity intact.
Hype and criticism apart, the pandemic has once again proved the resilience of the Indian medical profession. Despite several handicaps and challenges, our doctors — in public and private sectors — are taking care of the majority of patients in need of secondary, tertiary and quaternary care. The enabling push from the government will make them firm themselves up more so that they are ever ready to deal with any kind of health emergency.
Ultimately, it will benefit the patients who can get the best of affordable and ethical care.
The author is Vice-Chairman, Punjab State Planning Board; Vice-Chairman, Sonalika Group; Chairman-ASSOCHAM (Northern Council). Views expressed are personal.