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Thursday, September 20, 2007

United We Shock

I returned from ‘bilet’ after two years last year and was invited to my nephew’s naming ceremony (akeeka) within a week of my arrival. Sumptuous arrangements were underway and I treated myself with 'Made in Bangladesh' style biriyani and borhani which I so badly missed abroad. As my meal was nearing an end, I noticed sudden precipitation amongst the waiters. As soon as I finished my food, I found the reason of their being precipitated as I found myself surrounded by two of them with one holding a bowl of hot lemon water and another waiting eagerly behind him to wipe my hand off with a fresh pink towel. I was surprised to see this unexpected improvement in our hospitality sector and took advantage of the luxury of the service offered. Being satisfied with the food and the service, I stood up and stood in front of two smiling faces who very politely asked for some bakshish! I realized that there is indeed no free lunch and every good thing in Bangladesh does come with a cost, both big and small good things. I recollected from my embarrassment, made a strict face and retorted ‘kisher bakshish!’ It was my family dinner, I paid you to come, cook and serve me the food, I never asked you to wash and wipe my hands off, you did it yourself and now you are asking me for bakshish?? Get lost! End of story. Moral of story : if something too good to be true is happening to you in Bangladesh..while receiving a service…something is wrong. Please beware of the catch that follows.

A year after…I had the unfortunate privilege to be rushed to United Hospital emergency for a problem. My first encounter with the corporate hospital in town. At this hospital, patients are expected to recover from illness due to three reasons in terms of priority and reality. Firstly, the hospital is a five-star-hotel look alike, its clean, its spacious, its décor is attractive (both internal and external). The ambience is bound to create the ‘feel good’ factor in patients’ minds, so that is the first step towards cure. Secondly, the bill will come as such a shock that the bill itself and/or the fear of it will keep general diseases at bay. Patients who took care are very unlikely to return as the thought of the United bill is enough to keep any ill-feeling away. Lastly and very remotely by chance, if the doctors are genuinely good, they will help cure your disease.

Interestingly, the popular conception in Bangladesh regarding our medical services is that the diagnosis of disease is generally flawed. So the prescription that follows, as prescribed by the doctor, is bound to produce unwanted results. We keep on blaming the doctors, however we don’t always realize that the pathologists have an important role in between. Coming back to my own grievances, as I was lying in the emergency bed crisping with pain, I was approached by an intern-looking doctor who also appeared extremely nervous and looked at me as if I am in the last stage of my life and he has little to do other than ‘chukchuk’ing. His knowledge enabled him to identify some ‘spots’ in my back and in the upper portion of my eyes, I also appeared yellow to him and he hinted that either I have jaundice or I have ‘mild’ hepatitis-like symptoms. My exponentially increasing worry and pain was relieved to a great extent when the ‘actual’ doctor appeared and blew away his intern’s observations as mere crap. The intern disappeared. While doc kept on checking my system and kept on asking me questions about my parents’ natives, why they married each other, my beard style etc. He also expressed his intention to mimic my beardy fashion statement. My ‘irritometer’ (irritation meter) compounded with the ‘painometer’ was rocketing and I could manage to request him to focus on healing me and promised him that we will raise the topic once I am OK. He took guard and enquired about my previous medical records. Upon knowing that I have been seeing an Indian doctor for the last few months, he also expressed his disappointment by asking me if all the Bangladeshi doctors are bad or not? He left and I kept on lying on the emergency bed wondering what’s next.

During my short stay there, I did check out their toilets and found it to be clean and the equipments in right places. I recovered in 3 hours and left the premises with a big dent in my pocket. Nevertheless, emergencies are such in nature. However I feel there is a strong need to brand our doctors, either they can and should do it themselves, their employers can do it or any third party brand consultants can help create their image. These hotel-like five star hospital companies have good establishments and pricey medical services, but the nature of the service will always remain to the tacit knowledge and behavioral skills of the individual doctors. When we go see a doctor, we engage in some sort of a psychological contract with them, we hand in our life in their hands for a while and we expect them to treat us good. I think the medical know-how of our doctors notwithstanding, they have a lot to do on their interpersonal skills too. Inspite of ‘aalishaan’ buildings, Apollo has already gained the reputation of being a ‘bhua’ hospital, Square is next in line and who knows when United will be united to its industry peers. Both Square and Apollo had brought in some white-colored and Indian doctors, as an eye wash…but I ask why can’t our doctors be like them? What do they have that we don’t?

A piece of advice for United. The recent adverts in the newspapers are highlighting only your doctors, their degrees and their model poses. Can we see faces of some happy people who were treated by your doctors and are living happily ever after now? Can we come to know what their disease was, why they chose United, how they were treated and how they are now? If they recommend me to go their next sick-time round, I will pay heed to that, otherwise, thank you anyways for the flashy hospitals and hollow-headed practitioners.

I never realized that the prompt service, cleanliness, timeliness, accuracy… things which appear so elementary in medical services are prelude to the bill shock that follows. Much like the waiters who served me biriyani and asked for Bakshish for passing me the wash-bowl, the price I pay and the service I receive in our hospitals, its certainly not worth it. We have a crucial missing link…the doctors themselves.

as narrated to Red & Green by Mr. Shams

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