There are three types of hospitals, viz. Trust (charitable), Public Private Partnership (PPP) and Corporate. Guess which type of hospital has the highest reputation risks India?
It is the Trust-managed hospitals. Every time the charity commissioner’s office raises issues of non-adherence to providing free and subsidized beds to the poor, you have negative press. Healthcare activists have a grouse that Trust hospitals get concessions from the government, but do not help needy patients.
The Public-Private Partnership hospitals are the next on the risk index, with one partner, the government itself, speaking or acting against the other partner for not complying with the agreement terms (how much of it is true is another topic).
Surprisingly – and this brings us to one more unique aspect of healthcare — it is the corporate hospital which has lower risks compared to the other two.
Should hospitals adopt an image enhancement communication approach akin to that of other service sectors like airlines or hotels? Or, should hospitals adopt the communication approach of utility companies like electricity, infrastructure, etcetra? My research indicates the latter
A 2009 report on Mumbai’s Human Development indicates that people earning over Rs 5000 per month are patrons of private healthcare. A daily-wage earner cannot afford to lose his day’s wages waiting in a public centre! With low government participation in healthcare delivery, coupled with low insurance coverage, the private healthcare sector in India is in a precarious situation.
So, should hospitals adopt an image enhancement communication approach akin to that of other service sectors like airlines or hotels? Or, should hospitals adopt the communication approach of utility companies like electricity, infrastructure, etcetera? My research indicates the latter.
Unlike other service sectors like airlines or hotels, where a customer most times comes in with a leisure frame of mind, a person coming to a hospital is in a distressed frame of mind. Also, aviation and hotels impact a smaller customer group; healthcare impacts all. The priority of communication effort for hospitals, especially in India, should be to aim to create understanding for actions and policies, akin to utility companies. Such companies may not get appreciated for the everyday ease they provide to users, but one shortfall and they are under the spotlight.
A modern hospital is the product of capitalism, wrote Schumpeter, the economist known for his idea of ‘creative destruction’ and evangelizing ‘entrepreneurship’. According to him, “The capitalist process supplies the means and the will, but much more fundamentally because capitalist rationality supplied the habits of the mind that evolved the methods used in the hospitals”.
India is not a capitalist society. Dr. Manmohan Singh, while announcing the liberalisation policy in 1991, had said, “In highlighting the significance of reform, my purpose is not to give a fillip to (the) mindless and heartless consumerism we have borrowed from the affluent societies of the West… Our approach to development has to combine efficiency with austerity. Austerity not in the sense of negation of life or a dry, arid creed that casts a baleful eye on joy and laughter. To my mind, austerity is a way of holding our society together in pursuit of the noble goal of banishing poverty, hunger and disease from this ancient land of ours”.
Unfortunately, the role of banishing disease in India is shouldered by the private sector. Profit is important for a private enterprise to survive, meet operational costs and provide salaries to its staff, which has to be comparable to other sectors so that they are able to attract and retain talent.
This thin line is where communication to create understanding will help hospitals in the long run.
Noumaan Qureshi is a communication researcher, with interest in healthcare. Views expressed are personal.