Healthcare in India: Fear is the key
Fear is driving us into taking decisions we will regret.
One of the most powerful emotions that we have as humans is the emotion of fear.
It has acted as a strong motivator since the evolution of mankind, helping us survive as a race. The fight or flight response, as extensively documented, is based on our perception of fear. The more the fear, the more the urgency to act and vice versa.
But when age-old human responses are manipulated for personal profit, we have a situation on our hands.
‘What’, you may ask, ‘is happening that manipulates us as human beings?’
A lot, actually.
There are many opinions, perspectives and discussions on how mankind is being exploited (collectively termed by those who perpetrate these excesses as ‘conspiracy theories’) but a lot of these are only views, with no real explanation (concrete proof which every non believer demands).
However, there is one space, where it is in the face. You can’t deny its existence.
Healthcare. We all need to start worrying about it.
Many years ago, my father suffered a scooter accident where he fractured his ankle. On being taken to one of the top Hospitals in Mumbai, the doctor (a senior orthopaedic surgeon) immediately proceeded to take an X-Ray of his foot before, in a serious and earnest tone, he proclaimed that it needed a rod and a plate and of course a surgical procedure to put them in place. My father flatly refused and instead had his entire leg placed in a cast.
Over the next few weeks, he had no less than 10 X-Rays taken on follow up visits to the doctor. Eventually the radiologist mentioned in passing to my Dad, that so many X-rays are actually bad for health and can cause cancer. Words that fell on deaf ears when mentioned to the doctor in charge.
After the cast came off, my dad ran into our family physiotherapist who took one look at the X-Ray and told him that the fracture was so negligible that usually, he would put a crepe bandage on it and advise 2 weeks of rest, instead of the entire rigmarole of casts, X-Rays, multiple visits to the Hospital and an attempted surgery.
Cut to modern day India
Recently, I felt I was hearing a little less in one ear. There was a suppression of the high frequencies and it made me feel very uncomfortable.
I visited an ENT specialist in a leading hospital who heard out my story (surprisingly asking me questions about my profession in addition to my health issue) and then with a serious look on the face, continued to say that she was afraid I was losing my hearing.
I panicked, and followed her instructions to a T. Instructions that included two aural tests, blood tests and a plethora of really strong medicines.
By the end of the week, my hearing hadn’t improved much, but I was down by well over twenty thousand. Additionally I’d developed blisters on my tongue from the heavy medication I was prescribed.
On a chance, I decided to look it up on Google and found (surprisingly) that I wasn’t alone. This is something that is caused by the blockage of the Eustachian tube and something that every person (well, almost everyone) experiences at least once in their lives.
The cure? Salt water gargles and medication to control a common cold. The article also said that it usually clears up by itself in 2 odd weeks, which it did, despite the fact that I had stopped all the medication.
The only things that came out of this, is the 20,000/- I spent on confirming that I wasn’t going deaf and the painful blisters on my tongue.
Many of us have horror stories like these (and worse) to share about how they were taken for a ride by the doctor from a private healthcare institution.
I am not claiming, under any circumstance, that all doctors are bad. There are still many good doctors out there.
But unfortunately, finding one today, is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.
Private hospitals are profit driven corporations first, and healthcare providers later. Many are being run as sales organizations with doctors being held to monthly targets on surgeries, procedures and tests, to maximize their ROI per patient.
So they try to prescribe what you don’t really need, in order to meet their sales targets.
And that is where the crux of the matter lies.
The only way you can get a patient to agree to spend, is to make them believe that not doing so, places them at mortal risk.
What would be your reaction if I were to say to you:
“You look fine to me. The pain in your chest is only congestion. But hey, I’d like you to undergo the following tests and a surgical procedure to place a stent in your arteries to make some money off you”
In all probability, you would tell me to jump off a cliff.
However, if I reframed this to say (with a serious face… the face you make when you share really, really bad news):
“I am not sure what the problem is. But it may be a blockage in your arteries.There is a rising incidence of complications caused by our lifestyles, which is known to cause blockages in our arteries. It may lead to heart or organ failure. To be safe, I would recommend that you get a stent placed through a minor surgical procedure. The choice is yours, but would you take a chance with your health?”
In this case you’d seriously contemplate the surgery, whatever your end decision may be.
Fear, is the key. And fear shall rule us, as long as there is no accountability in the system.
Questions to ponder:
- Should healthcare be allowed to run as private, profit driven, sales focused organizations?
- Should there be some form of Malpractice law in our country, where doctors are held to the recommendations they make?
I welcome your views on this. Do share your comments below.