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Is profit the sole motive in corporate hospitals?

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 In recent days, the collective conscience of the nation has been shaken by twin pieces of news emanating from two leading corporate hospitals in Gurugram, Haryana, about the hospital bills of some Rs 16 lakh to Rs 18 lakh presented by the hospitals to the parents of seven year old kids who had died after treatment for some three weeks each in the hospitals.

This sum works out to a cost of roughly Rupees one lakh per day of stay in these hospitals, including the cost of treatment. That itself is staggering in poor country.

The general public was left aghast in the case of Fortis Hospital in Gurugram, where the seven year old girl who died after a three week stay in the hospital had nothing more serious than dengue, for which she was treated. The parents, who lost their daughter, were given by the hospital a very long bill, which included charges for as many as 660 syringes and 2700 gloves. Medicines that were given were most expensive ones, even as a few tablets of the cheaper versions were also given to her. It seems as if the hospital had a one point agenda of running up as huge a bill as possible.

When the number of syringes is divided by the number of days spent in hospital by the little girl, it emerges that she received upwards of forty syringes a day. Would that not be enough to spoil the health of a normal man in some three weeks, especially if those syringes were used to take out the blood from the body?

The twenty page bill presented to the father of the deceased by Fortis was for some Rupees twenty lakh. The father has demanded a probe. Indian health Minister J P Nadda has asked the Haryana Government, in whose jurisdiction the hospital falls, to conduct the probe, which it has initiated. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority has also sought a response from Fortis by issuing it a notice. It will thus be determined whether the hospital overcharged the patient on any material billed, since the NPPA has capped the prices of many drugs.

A report has also come in from Madhepur in Bihar, where a woman, who delivered a still-born child in a private hospital, was kept in custody of the hospital for twelve days as she could not pay the bill of Rupees 70,000. Since the hospital was not releasing his mother, her young son started begging outside the hospital to save the money. The local MP, Pappu Yadav, paid the money to the hospital and extricated the woman, and then arranged for her to go back home.

In the case of the Fortis incident, matters were compounded since the patient's relatives were suspecting that the child was already dead and the hospital was only attempting to inflate the bill by not revealing the fact of death. The relatives demanded that she be discharged which the hospital first refused. The relatives took the discharge against hospital advise just to get a death certificate from another hospital. In this situation, Fortis did not make available an ambulance for taking the patient to another hospital. Actually, when the girl was being taken away, a member of Fortis staff ran to the patient's relatives and demanded payment for the gown that the girl was covered with.

There was great agitation in the public at large as all these pieces of news made headlines, and it was this agitation that forced various governmental authorities to initiate probes into the matter.

However, these incidents make it very easy to draw two clear conclusions. Firstly, the cost of treatment is exorbitantly high in these so-called corporate hospitals. It is so high that if a family member has even such a disease as dengue and is admitted to such a hospital, the ultimate bill has the potential of bring an average middle class family to bankruptcy.

Secondly, the patient's relatives should have the assistance of a good doctor of their own to be able to monitor what the hospital is doing. If they find that they are being cheated with the purpose of inflating the bill, or that unnecessary treatment and procedures are being conducted to just raise the bill, they can consult their doctor and walk out with the patient while there is still time.

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