Private healthcare in India is in the eye of a storm following a series of scandals. The latest is a well-known private hospital handing over a dead infant who was thereafter discovered to be still alive. It Is alleged that the private hospitals charge exorbitantly and indulge in corrupt practices to make money.
Need for regulation –
- A critical clue is provided by the income tax department which unearthed in Bengaluru a widespread practice of doctors and diagnostic laboratories in league to fleece patients. Reportedly, doctors get a referral fee of 35 per cent for MRI tests and 20 per cent for CT scans and other diagnostic tests.
- A few months ago the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority imposed price ceilings on stents and knee replacements which brought down their costs to patients by over half.
- Regulation of private healthcare, when it is the mainstay, is a must. But India is notorious for bureaucratic and rent-seeking regulation.
- Doctors must take critical judgement calls, sometimes at short notice. Even the best doctors with enormous experience make mistakes. The system can hardly work if they begin to play safe.
How to regulate?
- For regulation to work, it has to have a light touch, be quick with findings and give the benefit of doubt where due.
- The regulatory body has to be high-powered, politically independent and represent all sections of stakeholders, particularly patients and NGOs active in the field.
- The regulator should insist on transparency — hospitals clearly publicising their rates for standard treatments and procedures. Also, there should be normative rates for different types of hospitals as not all private hospitals are posh or located in costly cities.
- Hospitals should publicise standard packages and rationale for additional charges levied recorded. The regulator should get regular data on the percentage of deviation from standard packages.
- The foremost job of regulators is to ensure that doctors are not paid commissions for referring patients to diagnostic centres or bringing them to hospitals.
- One way in which hospitals can avoid paying commission to consultants is not to have outside consultants, engage them full time and pay them a salary.
“The healthcare scenario is changing” and it is important “for us to look at new ways of generating funds, look for the right investors, without compromising the medical and financial interests of the patients.