The Fortis Hospital in Gurugram has faced harsh criticism from state officials after parents of a child who died from dengue fever were charged an excessive fee. “In simple words, it was not a death, it was a murder,” said Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij, discussing the negligence of the hospital.
A friend of the family expressed his outrage at the exorbitant fee via Twitter. The tweet went viral, being retweeted over 10,000 times before being picked up by the media. Details of a twenty page itemised bill were shared via Twitter, with many on the site claiming the hospital had hugely overcharged for items, or claimed to have used far more medical implements than would be reasonably expected.
Particular items on the list stand out as exceptional. More than 600 syringes were apparently used over a two week period. This would amount to an injection being applied nearly every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. The hospital has defended the bill, claiming the list of costs is accurate and reasonable.
The father of the child claimed despite the high costs, the doctors provided sub-par treatment. Notably he corroborates the claim by the hospital of such a high number of injections, citing around forty a day. He adds that expensive medications were used unnecessarily, and when cheaper options were available.
The hospital claimed to be following standard protocol for the treatment of dengue fever, and that any and all medications and treatments were explained and justified to the parents following the death of the child.
This has been questioned by the investigation committee, as it was found that irregularities were found in the pricings even within this one incident. Of the numerous incidents that the child was administered platelet injections, charges varied considerably. In 25 instances, they were billed at Rs 400 per unit, and in eight instances, they were charged Rs 2,000 per unit.
However, it is noted by the World Health Organization (WHO) that there is no standardised protocol for the treatment of dengue fever. The implication of this is that each individual hospital will have their own standard of treatment for dengue patients. This is likely to ring true across India as there are often great levels of disparity between hospitals in different regions and states, as well as between the public and private sectors.
Accusations are abundant that some private health facilities within India profit from desperate or gullible patients in an almost predatory way. Private healthcare facilities are often established in areas where public health infrastructure is lacking. This leaves many patients with no choice but to visit private facilities where they will knowingly be overcharged.
Government provided health insurance has attempted to alleviate some of the issues with lacking healthcare infrastructure. The case of the Fortis Hospital illustrates the flaws in this endeavour. Despite being covered by insurance, a huge sum of the fee charged by the hospital was paid out of pocket by the family.
The family’s medical insurance covered against charges up to Rs 3 lakh. This insurance covered the amount charged only for the consumables, such as gloves, equating to Rs 2.73 lakh. An additional Rs 4 lakh was spent on medicines, Rs 2.85 lakh on medical and surgical procedures, Rs 2.17 lakh on medical investigations including blood tests, Rs 29, 290 on other diagnostics.
A three member committee of state ministers have requested the Haryana Urban Development Authority to cancel the hospital’s land operating lease. “In case any overcharging, negligence or malfeasance is made out on the part of the hospital, exemplary action needs to be taken immediately to reassure the general public and to lend credence to the healthcare system,” said Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan.