With their gleaming facades, five-star lobbies and rockstar doctors, big private hospitals are now a fact of life in India’s urban landscapes. Well-heeled middle-class patients and those with enough insurance now rush to them, hoping for world-class treatment but sure that either way it will cost them a bomb. “The choice is limited and the costs of care in the private hospitals are going up,” says Alok Mukhopadhyay of Voluntary Health Association of India.
Experts blame this in large part to the expensive superstructure created at these mega hospitals—the extensive use of technology, needless tests, prescriptions of expensive medicines, and fancy salaries to consultants among others. Though many of the hospitals have registered themselves as trusts and avail tax breaks, there is no regulation to ensure that they meet their commitment to poor patients. “Private hospitals are not open to oversight—monitoring and clinical quality is a huge question mark,” says Ravi Duggal, country coordinator, International Budget Partnership. Duggal has done extensive studies on healthcare in India.
Duggal blames the present unregulated status of private sector healthcare on the failure of the Union government to get the Clinical Establishment Act, 2010, enacted and the lack of initiative by states to bring in similar legislations. The irony is that while an overburdened public sector health structure is straining under the load, private hospitals are growing rapidly—but only in terms of number, not necessarily in quality of care.
Consumer advocate Jehangir Gai says that though healthcare costs in India may seem more affordable when compared to the West, “it is still out of reach of the average people. One illness can wipe you out. It is not individual hospitals but the whole system that is flawed”. He narrates a story from a medico- legal conference he attended where a doctor admitted to “being compelled to leave for not meeting income targets” of the hospital.