The healthcare sector in India is a showcase of many extremes.
Over the last decade, India has earned itself the reputation of being the go-to place for specialised medical help. The country has over 100,000 of the most globally qualified allopathic doctors; cheap medical costs (a heart-valve replacement that would cost $200,000 or more in the US, costs $10,000 in India- and that includes round-trip airfare and a brief vacation package) and the latest in technology. The other extreme – barely a fortnight ago, 114 students in Madhya Pradesh were found to have scammed their way into an MBBS degree by bribing government officials upwards of Rs.10 Lakh, each. Apollo Hospital offers medical counselling to over 16 million patients a year, from 55 different countries. The hospital’s superior infrastructure and legion of specialised doctors (whose laurels are out-matched even the number of beds available at the hospital – a record setting 8,500 beds) – the hospital has built itself an image of being one of the most specialised medical units in the country, and world. The other extreme – 26 infants have died in the past five days in a state-run hospital in India’s West Bengal state. Battling reports of staff negligence, the hospital feels that with just 60 beds for infants, they were ill equipped to deal with the 14,000 babies that were admitted to the hospital, over the past three months. Max Hospital is often referred to – by foreign press and a number of legitimate European medical communities, for their meticulous attention to quality, safety and outstanding “hotel” services at their leading city hospital branches. The other extreme – according to reports, 90% of Nashik’s hospitals are not compliant with fire safety norms and over 40 hospitals in Mumbai still lack basic fire safety equipment.
With private firms surging ahead, painting a healthy picture that all is fun and futuristic; government-run institutes seem to be heading in the opposite direction, facing charges of negligence and inability to deal with crisis situations. Here are 5 of the most common PR disasters that a hospital can face, along with a few suggestions.
1) Complaints regarding reasons for suspecting wrongful death – Hospitals will find benefit in adhering to the norms when it comes to issuing a timely death certificate. By expediting the process, and clearly mentioning the reasons for death, the hospital can safeguard itself against any unnecessary unpleasantness that might be caused during the wait. Or worse still any un-required media attention.
2) Complaints about inappropriate, offensive behaviour by patients – Set guidelines and run regular training sessions for staff. Issue manuals regarding protocol and interaction with patients. Explain individual roles and situations to staff – in detail. Have consent forms easily available.
3) Complaints about bed reservation for the poor – Highlight the hospital’s bed policy at the reception. Accept, advertise and embrace the reservation quota. Ensure transparency as far as possible. Issue and share case studies of how bed reservation has helped particular people – Try and spin the government mandate into a beneficial CSR initiative.
4) Possibility of ex-Doctors and staff bad mouthing the hospital – Issue a ‘code of conduct’ manual. Don’t let it just sit on a shelf. Actively publicize it – perhaps as a poster. Do not be quick to reach out to the media with a retaliation. The problem can sometimes be sorted out in-house with minimal external involvement.
5) Errors by contractual labour – Contractual employees at a hospital should be selected with the utmost care. Do not be afraid to follow referrals – tried and tested is often the safest. Cost cutting is not an option when it comes to security. Conduct a thorough background check on each contractual labourer.