Thursday, April 08, 2010
A Bombay doctor visits Ahmedabad - an eye opener !
I was recently invited to give a talk to the Ahmedabad medical association on How to be a Successful Doctor. After my talk, I went to visit 2 private hospitals, to see how doctors in Ahmedabad delivered medical care.
This visit was quite an eye-opener. Bombay is widely accepted as the Medical Center of India - and Bombay doctors treat patients from all over the country, including lots of patients from Ahmedabad !
I saw two hospitals. One was an IVF center; and the other was a Urology clinic. Each of these was a stand-alone 4-floor purpose-built building , covering about 20000 square feet. In comparison, in Bombay, where real estate is about 10 times as expensive, the typical private nursing home or hospital is about one tenth the size !
Because there is no shortage of space in Ahmedabad, doctors can build large hospitals for themselves - something which is impossible in Bombay ! These doctors are hard working specialists in private practise. They have a very entrepreneurial bent of mind, since they run their own hospital . While it's true that their patients are not very well off, and do not pay too much ( which means they charge a fraction of what Bombay doctors do ), these doctors have a huge patient workload and a lot of clinical expertise .
The doctors I visited have invested lot of money in buying top quality high end medical equipment , imported from all over the world. They do not skimp on buying medical equipment when they feel this is cost effective and helps them to perform better. This is why they provide high quality care- at a fraction of the cost which doctors in Bombay do !
Travelling to Ahmedabad is easy and the infrastructure is improving dramatically. Accommodation for patients and their family members is cheap; and these doctors have developed lots of clever indigenous innovations to keep costs down ! These have been clinically proven to work well in practise , allowing them to offer low cost high quality care !
I feel doctors from Bombay - and in fact doctors from all over the world - can learn a lot from doctors practising in Tier 2 and 3 Indian cities such as Ahmedabad.
If this is true, then why don't they attract more patients ? And why did I have to make a trip Ahmedabad to learn about the work these doctors are doing ? Why don't patients know about them ? And why don't other doctors learn from them ?
I think the answer is simple and is two-fold. The first problem is a limited vision. While there are some notable exceptions, most of these doctors are quite contented taking care of local patients. The other major problem is poor marketing. They do have websites, but these are poorly maintained and are rarely updated. Because of limited English language skills, the websites are full of grammatical errors and typos - all of which create a poor impression.
Why don't they do a better job ? This is honestly a million-dollar question I cannot answer ! These are easy problems to fix ! They can easily start websites, and especially if they do these in local Indian languages, they will have practically no competition ! While the internet may be global, it's great for attracting local patients ! I think doctors still underestimate the power of the internet and do not realise how many patients use this these days to find the best medical care for themselves.
Some doctors are intimidated by the technological complexity which they think is involved in running a website; while others do not bother , because none of the other doctors in the town have one either. Others have tried, but were very disappointed with the results, because they had very unrealistic expectations. Digital marketing is inexpensive - but requires a lot of patience ! These doctors can easily use video to reach low literacy patients - and this will become increasingly important as internet penetration in India improves; and every one carries a smart phone.
These small doctor-owned hospitals are often far better than corporate hospitals , because they provide personalised care, at a lower cost. However, unless these doctors learn to use the internet to market their services, they will continue losing their well-off patients to doctors from Bombay ! They need to think of the future or they will remain stuck in the past !