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Hospitals should be infrastructure ready for future pandemics: Joy Chakraborty

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Joy Chakraborty, COO, P D Hinduja Hospital and Chairman – CII WR Task Force on Healthcare spoke to Viveka Roychowdhury on how COVID-19 taught hospitals the importance of going digital. He also makes the point that the government must understand that to provide quality care, hospitals incur a cost, which they need to recover in order to be viable, and suggests that the government could look at giving some rebates to the hospital sector so that more investments can be made for upping the healthcare infrastructure in the country.

On the trust deficit and cases of hospitals overcharging for COVID care, he says patients need to understand that quality care will require a certain cost. Patients therefore need to plan for healthcare expenses and realise that health insurance is a must. He also mentions that people are now beginning to realise the struggle of frontline workers and have started appreciating the efforts taken by them.

As Chairman – CII WR Task Force on Healthcare, he talked about the theme of the upcoming CII Hospital Tech Summit 2020, Transforming healthcare – Digitally and that while some of these digital solutions may add costs initially, these costs would be offset by increased efficiency, better patient experience and hence greater inflow of patients.

 What have been the learnings, gaps identified during the current pandemic, which can be incorporated into India’s hospital sector so that they are more resilient?

The coronavirus pandemic was unprecedented and even the healthcare sector wasn’t spared. When the pandemic began, there was a lot of apprehension and fear on the nature of the virus and the impact to could have. As each day was a new beginning in battling the virus, we at PD Hinduja Hospital, laid out strict clinical policies to be followed, safety protocols activated following the government guidelines.

One of the key learning is that for tackling pandemics like this, hospitals need special infrastructure like negative isolation areas, different  patient logistical pathways etc. which not many hospitals had planned for. Hospitals should be infrastructure ready for such pandemics in future.

Also, during times like these staff tend to get overworked, stressed out and sometimes even fear sets in. Keeping the staff motivated and helping them to overcome their anxiety is critical. We had made special transport arrangement for staff during the lockdown, provided them with adequate safety gear, screened all staff daily for symptoms, created special isolation facilities for those infected who cannot isolate at home and  provided counselling services to infected staff and their families. Working seamlessly as a team, and not in silos as departments was essential in this phase.

We had cross functional teams working on various areas and we had to redeploy medical and non- medical staff from other specialties to take care of COVID-19 patients. There was swift coordination between physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, services staff, supply chain managers, and many others in fighting this crisis.

COVID-19 also taught us the importance of going digital, which we believe is going to be the new normal in healthcare. We launched tele-consultation and COVID Care at home services to provide care to the patients at home. This pandemic has surely brought the government and the private sector together and we have been fully cooperating with the government on fighting the pandemic.

What is the future of PPPs in the post pandemic era? Will there be a resurgence?

The healthcare sector surely needs more focus by the government and this pandemic has thrown open the doors for more introspection in the public healthcare sector.
PPP projects are indeed important for making healthcare affordable and accessible to the masses. During the pandemic, most private hospitals worked in cooperation with the government to tackle the crisis.

However, the government must understand that to provide quality care, hospitals incur a certain amount of cost, which they need to recover in order to be viable. For instance, we were fully supporting the government to provide covid care at subisdised rates, but when the government regulated the non covid rates, it came as a big financial blow to the hospitals, which were already in financial distress. So there has to be mutual trust and understanding in making PPPs work.

Currently however as financial burden looms over several private hospitals, the government could look at giving some rebates to the hospital sector to improve their financial situation, so that more investments can be made for upping the healthcare infrastructure in the country.

Public trust in doctors and hospitals has been eroded further, thanks to the stress the pandemic has put on patients paying out of pocket. How can this be addressed?

People have to understand that our doctors, nurses and other non -medical staff have been working virtually non-stop for the past 3-4 months and risking their lives to treat the people from this deadly virus.

Across the world, when the pandemic hit, there were no clear cut solutions for this disease, the treatment protocols evolved as the world learnt more, so it has indeed been very stressful for the staff. There may have been some very few odd instances of high bills, but in general the hospitals have not been overcharging and have gone out of their way to protect the lives of covid patients.

Patients need to understand that quality care will require a certain cost. Unfortunately either the patients are not aware, or even if they are they don’t plan for healthcare costs, so when such a calamity comes, it hits them hard financially. Patients need to plan for healthcare expenses and must realise that health insurance is a must.

I would like to add that people are now beginning to realise the struggle of frontline workers and have started appreciating the efforts taken by them. At our hospital too, we have received very positive feedback from many of our patients who were admitted and successfully treated by our medical team.

Since CII Hospital Tech Summit 2020 focuses on adopting Digital Solutions as a key strategy for industry across the globe to cope up with current challenges, what are these digital solutions? Will they add to the cost? Are they more affordable, more accessible, and more efficient for patients in rural as well as urban areas?

The current pandemic situation has taught everyone across industries to shift gears as far as possible to e-world and also work efficiently in it. Same is the case with the healthcare industry.

In hospitals, digital is increasingly being used in all aspects of patient care. Appointment bookings and payments can be done on-line. Tele / video-consultation has taken off in a big way, with both the doctors and patients realising its advantages. There are many more such offerings, like tele-monitoring, tele-reporting, digitisation of patient records and reports, e-prescriptions, and apps /devices for self-monitoring of vitals by patients.

Digital technology is also being used to improve the efficiency of hospital operations, like use of robots for guiding and assisting patients during their visit to hospital, delivery of food/medicines etc.

Digital solutions are being used to improve efficiency of hospital operations like deploying hospital staff to patients on a real time basis and planning, scheduling for optimal utilisation of machines and equipment. Some of these digital solutions may add costs initially, but these costs would be offset by increased efficiency, better patient experience and hence greater inflow of patients. Digital solutions would definitely help in making healthcare accessible to patients in different parts of the country, in both urban and rural areas.

The event is supported by the Netherlands as a ‘Partner Country’. About 18 companies from the Netherlands shall showcase their progressive offerings at the Dutch Pavilion at the Expo. The United Kingdoms is also supporting this initiative.

With most events shifting to virtual mode, and many overlapping, are there concerns of being able to attract and retain the right delegates?

I believe that every change comes with some merits and demerits. The first merit of this particular is that personally I feel I have become very productive. I used to travel so much as a speaker, but now I save on that time. I can simply log in for my panel or session, without having to travel to the venue or waiting through other sessions. Time and resource management has become fantastic.

Secondly, delegates can become choosy and attend just the sessions they want across events, without having to travel to a venue and waiting for the part /session they are interested in.

But on the demerits side, it is difficult to retain the attention of delegates. But I feel that if the content and speakers are good, then automatically you are able to attract more delegates and retain their attention. For instance, from September 5 to September 19, we have held around six webinars, as part of the Healthcare Leadership Dialogue series, as curtain raisers to the CII HospitalTech Summit 2020 and on an average we had around 150-200 attendees for each of these. I am not sure there would be this number of active attendees in too many live conferences of this kind.

The webinars were on topics like discussing the experience from pandemics, the role of AI & ML in the evolution of radiology and imaging in the future, the challenging road ahead in financing healthcare, newer modalities and popular protocols in oncology and why hospitals should take note and incorporate these into their setup, the way forward in medtech, and how digital health can be an enabler for the future.

The schedule for the upcoming Healthcare Leadership Dialogue series includes sessions on Creating a Healthy Ecosystem for Healthcare Sector (October 1, 1600 – 1730 hrs), Quality: An enabler for Better Healthcare” (October 5, 1600 – 1730 hrs) and the seventh one on Role of Private sector hospitals to build capacity of treating TB and COVID – with focus on drug resistant patient pool (October 8, 1600 – 1730 hrs)

Virtual events have become very cost effective and therefore there are many being held. This is becoming an information overload for attendees but then they can become choosy and attend only the parts of the events they really are interested in. So according to me, there are pluses and minuses, we need to pick and choose what is optimum for us.

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