The Business Of Medical Bargain
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“I will die now” the forty-plus gentleman said in a semi-threatening way, “I haven’t slept all night yesterday as I was with my brother, I even skipped my lunch today. I must sleep now. I will leave my cell number, if something happens to my brother, they can call me. You are around, right?”
“Yes, the ICU team is looking after your brother round the clock, I am around till late night.” I told him. There was no point in telling him that I hadn’t slept for last three nights either.
On the prior night at about 10.15 PM, after my work hours, as I went to receive my sister on the airport, I had received his panic call, as this gentleman’s brother had developed sudden convulsions. This brother had seen me few months ago, in emergency, when he had developed a stroke. I remembered that they were quite unhappy about the bills then in spite of a good recovery. They had left with sarcastic remarks about the bills. A good memory is essential for every doctor.
I asked them to rush to the casualty, gave him the number for ambulance, and went to park my car at the airport.
“One Hundred Rupees, Sir” said the person on the parking desk.
“But I am parking only for few minutes, I have come to pick someone up” I asked him, surprised that the parking charges. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande.
“Even for entry the charge is 100 rupees” he told me with a cold smile. I had started getting calls from my sister, she had landed. I paid his hundred, parked the car and went on to receive her. On the way, I called up the casualty and issued instructions about this patient who was to arrive there.
Sis was tired, but happy to see me. I told her that we had to make a stop at the hospital on the way back, there was an emergency.
“When will you become a senior doctor who does not have to attend patients at night?” she asked with a sarcastic smile.
“Never”, I replied, “All Indian doctors die young and working.”
“Shut up, don’t talk rubbish things like that” she said with her feminine instinct. “I desperately need tea, can I get some and drink it on the way?” she asked.
We went to get tea and my coffee.
“Two hundred and fifty Rupees, Sir” said the attendant at the airport tea stall.
“Why?” I asked a stupid question almost knowing his answer, “Even an MBBS doctor charges less than your tea/ coffee”.
“GST” he replied, calmly. As if airport shops were dishing out cheap before GST!
After counting the money and safeguarding it, he gave me two sips each of tea and coffee. We also bought 500 ml drinking water for another 100 rupees, and drove to the hospital. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Leaving Sis in the car, I went to the casualty. The patient arrived in a few minutes, it was nearly 11 PM. He was still unconscious, convulsing and bleeding from his mouth. The casualty team got into efficient action, and in a few minutes the convulsions stopped. Writing his orders and answering many relevant and irrelevant questions asked by his irate brother, explaining him the situation and criticality, I drove Sis home well past midnight.
Three days later, he was discharged, fully recovered. Till then I received innumerable calls day and night because of their complaints ranging from blankets, food and ‘the nurse did not come immediately when I pressed the bell’, to medical management and doses etc. The patient and his brother had spent most of their life in Switzerland (restauranteers). They net-researched a lot and tested my knowledge and patience together, till the time I finally and subtly gave them an option to handover the case to a “Senior” colleague, very good but famous for not answering any questions at all. Then they stopped.
Upon discharge, the patient and the brother brought me the hospital bill. A doctor has the same control on the hospital billing that a common man has on the government, I told them so.
“The hospital bill is okay” he said, “but you have charged a thousand rupees per day. That is too much”.
“What would you charge, Sir, if you were a superspecialist with high qualifications and over 20 years of experience, rushing late night to attend an emergency?” I asked him, “What will you charge if you were to attend a person 24/7 under your care, answerable by law and having a right to sue you for lakhs if you commit simplest of a mistake?” © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Three Hundred rupees is the maximum I think a doctor should charge. Our family physician charges us that much since last 5 years” he said without a blink.
“Sorry Mister, we are not bargaining about this. Your family physician is gracious, but even he is charging you far less compared to the western standards of care you expect. What essentials of life have gone cheaper in last 5 years? Even the T shirt you wear is an international brand costing above two thousand rupees. Just because you are in India, you did not buy a three hundred rupees T shirt, or a local brand of car or cellphone. Indian doctors already charge far lower, being aware of the poverty status of multitudes. You must not take advantage of this and claim minimal rates for all medical services. In the western world, a specialist won’t have come for you to the casualty after his work hours, nor would you be able to reach him / her, and every consult would cost you over five times what I have charged you”.
“But Doctors should not think about money” said the patient.
I had decided long ago never to discuss money with patients. This had cost me immeasurable losses, some dupe the doctor / hospital outright, while some think a polite sweet talk is enough fees. Some bring VIPs, some threaten blatantly. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande. Even the insurance companies want every medical service to be available at a concessional rate for everyone!
God has given me enough and I am thankful. I go to work every day with an aim to return God’s favours in whatever small ways I can. However, I don’t understand the rich / affording people who take advantage of what is meant for the poor.
“Indian doctors spend only two minutes with the patient” said a recent headline, adding copious amount of fuels to the anti-doctor sentiments of the society. This is a clear equivalent of the naked pictures such newspapers publish to get attention. They conveniently forget the doctor-patient ratio in the western world, the payments for medical services, availability of specialists, waiting period for appointments, the education and behaviour of patients, non-interference by politicians, working hours and facilities for the doctors, and most importantly the fact that India provides doctors to almost every country upon earth, and gets patients from many developed countries too.
Because they know, people will buy the newspaper only if they print those naked pictures! © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Ok, just give us some concession” said the brothers.
“Do you ask concessions in parking lots, in coffee shops, in hotels?” I asked.
Disgruntled, he replied “No, but you are a doctor, you must be compassionate to the patient”.
“Compassionate to the patient or his greed for money and skimpiness?” I wanted to ask, but time was running short, so I wrote a note or the billing to cut off some amount from my consultation fees, and resumed work.
India needs a two-tier medical charging system, with those below poverty line getting all basic medical services free and special services at a basic cost, while all others must pay relevantly.
My businessman friend, who is also an excellent and compassionate human being was laughing at me. “You doctors let people do this to you. There is a difference between being compassionate and letting someone take advantage of you. The later is stupidity. There should be a special window for bargainers of doctor’s charges and medical bills, and the bargaining should begin at the time of admission. That is when the value of saving health and life, and the importance of timing are best felt. Once the patient improves, the value of medical service received becomes zero. If they cannot afford, give them the basic treatment for emergency and let them go to a hospital where they can afford the treatment. There are many choices. To insist on a set of specialists, luxuries and then to refuse to pay is the general tendency, you will always lose in this case”.
Almost every doctor enjoys saving lives, treating thousands to relive their suffering. However, the continuous onslaught of allegations about high fees, legal threats, mudslinging by some politicians and socially prominent influential nitwits, combined with a callous attitude by most media takes away so many proud pleasures from a doctor’s life!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
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PS: there are some who continuously fail to grasp the main issue and continue their age-old song about some doctors and hospitals doing too many tests, taking advantage. The simple solution is : don’t visit such doctors or hospitals. Don’t do the tests. Be happy.