Stakeholders credit the entry of private players for development of the health care industry. A growing number of corporate houses and companies are investing in hospitals ensuring all pervasive and holistic health care service. There is a strong presence of the private sector in the domestic healthcare service industry with medical institutions like Om Hospital, B&B Hospital, Norvic Hospital, Blue Cross, Medicare Hospital, Grande International Hospital, Neuro Hospital, Vayodha Hospital, Kathmandu Medical College and Manipal Medical College at the forefront. The latest wave of investments points to healthcare as a lucrative area of investment.
“The health care industry is growing rapidly even in a sluggish economy with the ability to draw huge investments.”
“The entry of innovative, professional, educated and dynamic investors in the industry did not only help break the decade long government monopoly in the sector but also gave a sense of relief to patients with their swift, technology-based and organised service,â€ says Gopi Krishna Neupane, former General Secretary of Association of Private Health Institutions Nepal (APHIN) who claims that the entry and success of private medical institutes was the result of a growing need of quality healthcare service and the poor performance of public health centers.
According to APHIN, there are as more than 400 hospitals including 200 from the private sector. However in terms of bed capacity, private hospitals along with community and cooperative based hospitals offer 14,000 beds while the government sector has 7,000 beds.
APHIN also estimates that the private health care industry has a total investment of Rs 5-6 billion and employs as many as 15,000 individuals directly including 10,000 technical manpower. However, despite having double the capacity, the private along with cooperative and community based hospitals serve 50 percent of the total patients while the rest are served by the government health care institutes. “It‘s because private hospitals do not have reach in most rural areas and also a huge number of Nepalese rely on government hospitals for OPD checkups and only visit private centers for specialised services,â€ says Neupane, a promoter of Stupa Community Hospital, Boudha.
The Commercialisation Illusion
Private sector hospitals are often accused of being too commercial, but operators defend themselves stating that quality comes at cost.
According to Sandip Ranjit, Marketing Chief of Blue Cross Hospital, private sector medical services are not that expensive when taking into account the the swiftness in service and the delivery of quality. “If a person comes to Kathmandu for a normal surgery in a government hospital, s/he is made to wait in queue for a month,â€ he says, “Now calculate the cost of staying in Kathmandu along with an attendant. There is also the risk of your condition worsening.â€
Dr Rabi Shakya, Head of Department of Psychiatry at Patan Hospital claims that people have the wrong perception about hospitals and medical professionals. “The taxi that leads you to the emergency is allowed to be expensive, the canteen at hospitals are allowed to be expensive, and also the fruits that a patient consumes are allowed to be, then why is there a hullaballoo regarding hospitals and doctors being expensive?â€ he questions, arguing, “A private sector hospital has to invest tens of millions of rupees only to import equipments so that patients get better diagnostics, proper care and prompt serviceâ€¦ and at whose cost will all this come from?â€
Industry insiders claim that had there been little support from the government even on import of equipment.
Culture of Excellence
Private sector players claim that private hospitals have not just introduced the concept of ‘customer care‘ but also have shaped the culture of excellence in the overall medical sector. “The introduction of ultra modern equipment, expert professionals, personalised and specified services and sense of care and sympathy are benchmarks that private hospitals are really here to serve,â€ says veteran doctor Anjani Kumar Jha, Immediate Past President of NMA. He says that private hospitals are not satisfied with the status quo of serving patients and making immediate returns but have stayed focused on enhancing and improving their service for a sustainable period of time.
Specific departments; preventive, curative and rehabilitation services; instant diagnosis and treatment; honest referrals, telemedicine, and others are some of the biggest offerings of private hospitals, according to investors.
“The fact that this is not a short term business is testament that private hospitals want to improve themselves and achieve excellence,â€ says senior cardiologist Dr Bhagwan Koirala. He also opines that the private sector financing in healthcare industry has played an important role in the overall transformation of the country‘s healthcare system that has a relatively short history in Nepal, while the entry of private sector players in healthcare industry has made the sector more competitive, professional and organised.
“Gone are the days when patients had to visit at least three government hospitals for diagnosing even a simple illness due to lack of bed, defunct diagnostic machines and lack of care,â€ Neupane argues, “Private sector hospitals have established themselves as single-window service centres.â€ He further adds that private hospitals have also enabled diagnosis and treatment of almost 95 percent of serious ailments within the country itself.
Health may be the sector where the biggest chuck of the government‘s budget goes every year (and with no solid output), the consolidated efforts from private sector groups, be it from a segment of professionals or big investors, the sector is becoming more competitive, trust-worthy and ever growing in the last two decades. Be it through the establishment of local clinics, medium level medical centres or mega hospital projects, private sector players have not only brought in significant amounts of money, but also have brought quality and professionalism along with innovative technology.
For the last half decade, there has been a remarkable growth in the number of private hospitals that is today a major source of healthcare service provider. There are stakeholders who however impose conspiracy theory and claim that growing investments in this sector exist because of the safe playing ground it offers. “There are promoters of some hospitals who also treat the healthcare business as a safe ground for private sector investment,â€ claims a health professional according to whom there is no trade unionism in this sector, hospital are not bound to pay donations to political parties akin to other industrialists and that healthcare is among the few businesses where credit is not allowed making it a safe game to play.
Despite coming a long way, the country‘s health care has not been able to give proper focus to research and development of alternate health care which might push the sector further and make the country a hub for medical tourism.
Dr Shakya believes that the country has its own traditional healing and medicinal systems which might be a huge avenue of research and study. “If we can venture into the research and studies of our own local and traditional diagnostic and healing system, we might be able to share the knowledge with the world,â€ says Dr Pradeep Pandey, Medical Consultant for Alka Hospital.
Promoters however rule out the prospect of discovering and developing local knowledge blaming lack of resources. “This is a thing to be supported by the government,â€ states Neupane, “The private sector does not have that resource for research which is long and expensive.â€