Health, wealth and other things

All I got from my visits to two doctors at two of Noida’s leading private hospitals were impoverising bills, innumerable pills to pop and little relief from the pain I was experiencing. So, I decided to confront my fear of long queues and dreary waiting hours at government hospital and landed at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital in Delhi.

Being government healthcare novice, I stood confused in front of the gate of the outpatient department (OPD) for about 15 minutes before somebody told me that patients coming to the hospital for the first time have to go to the screening OPD where they are asked about their ailment by a nurse at the counter. The nurse then assigns them a doctor in the related department. I was to see an ENT specialist. After getting the badi parchi (literally, the big document) which had all my details on it apart from space for the prescription, I made my way towards the department. I had to walk back on to the main road and take a few bylanes and alleys before I arrived at the building housing the department. Walking to the counter, I felt a little elated that I was one of the first few people in the queue.

I remember thinking then that my consultation would end quick. I handed over the badi parchi to the doctor after I located his room. He gave it a once-over and asked me to wait. All my elation erode when he came out and announced that he would first see patients lined for surgeries. Two hours passed. Patients walked in and out of the doctor’s chamber. Two hours went by like this, and it finally seemed like it was my turn. Glad to the maximum, I almost dashed to the doctor’s chamber. My second disappointment came next. The doctor was called away for a meeting. I remember feeling devastated and then raging privately against the hospital, the doctor, my circumstances, et al. There came a point when I felt certain I was going to walk off in my anger.

But something held me back – my helplessness. A hour and a half passed before the doctor came. Looking at the harried, overworked doctor, my anger gave way to sympathy. Apart from the incessant stream of patients he had to see, he also had to attend meetings. Having to explain each detail to patients who were either illiterate or unaware would have taken its toll as well. Thankfully, he would have had patients like me as well (pardon my lack of modesty here) who had taken advanced courses in biology in school or college and could make some sense of what he was saying.
I was reminded of an anecdote of a friend who just completed her MBBS at the prestigious Calcutta Medical College, in my home-city Kolkata. Once, an accident victim was brought in by relatives. As the victim was deep in shock, the attending doctors were having some difficulty in locating a vein to start a drip. In a few minutes hysterical relatives were screaming at the doctors, calling into question their competence. ‘It was very difficult for us to explain to them that in accident cases due to loss of blood the body goes into shock. Under such circumstances it is not easy for us to locate veins,’ my friend had told me. Thankfully, she added, the incident did not escalate into a confrontation as so many other emergency room cases do. The same friend narrated another incident where the patient party had attacked a doctor and injured him. ‘When we went to lodge a complaint with the police, the station house officer (SHO) begged us to keep the matter quiet for fear of losing his job as the people who inflicted the injury belonged to a minority community and served as the vote banks of the ruling party,’ she said.

With increasing privatisation, healthcare is becoming a profit-raking business. Drawing from my experience and from that of others I know, I am inclined to think that there is some truth to the rumours that doctors in private hospitals would recommend surgery to patients who did not require any to bilk his/her hapless and anxious friends/relatives of money. There are many rationalisations – I am told doctors are now being handed revenue targets. But this doesn’t make the siphoning justifiable. I had developed a distaste for government healthcare because of experiences that were, more or less, sour. But it is important to realise that this system of healthcare serves millions in the country for whom healthcare is becoming inaccessible with increasing privatisation. I had cursed the entire medical fraternity often before because of the experiences I had.

Now, the ones in this government hospital reminded me of the pressures they have to work with. In many hospitals, with a chronic shortage of staff, doctors have to often assume administrative duties as well. This, with little support from the government or from the masses they are expected to serve. I am done with letting a few bad apples truning me off doctors as a whole!

On arrangement with Governance Now
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