Friday, May 16, 2003

Munna Bhai system for hospitals

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 16: Gone are the days when you enter a corporate hospital or a diagnostic centre and silently pay whatever bill is thrust into your hands. Now you can quote your own price through a telephone bidding for any of the diagnostic tests on offer.
Enter the world of open auction in health. Like in airlines, you can participate in the health bidding, quoting as little as Rs 1500 for an MRI scan costing Rs 6,500 or Rs 500 for a plan CT scan which otherwise is available for Rs 2,500. Ordinary lab tests can be had for a mere Rs 25 per test.
But the only hitch is that you have to wait for three days to a week to get the tests done or you may have to visit the hospital at an untimely hour. In some cases, you may simply get the report sans the film, which is quite costly. Those requiring urgent medical tests have no option but to pay the price fixed by the hospital or the diagnostic centre. You may also not get the hospital of your choice.
A group of corporate hospitals and diagnostic centres in Hyderabad has now come out with a novel concept of utilising non-peak hours by offering medical tests at highly discounted prices through open auction. The savings range between 25 and 75 per cent depending on one's requirement, choice of healthcare provider and urgency.
Introduced for the first time in the country by Hyderabad-based Doctor Munnabhai Technologies P Limited, the concept of medical bidding is fast catching up with patients. Inspired by Sanjay Dutt-starrer Munnabhai MBBS, the company has enrolled a group of hospitals and diagnostic centres for the novel offer, "Doctor Munnabhai 24x7".
"There's no compromise on the quality. The reports are accurate since the tests are conducted on the same machines. We are able to offer tests at discounted prices by utilising non-peak hospital hours, say 6 am to 9 am and 8 pm to 12 midnight. Even at the discounted rate of Rs 1500, some hospitals make a profit of Rs 300, if the number of films is restricted. We at Image have been offering MRI scan for Rs 2,950 for the past one year. We give utmost priority to quality and accuracy as our reports are open to disputes in consumer fora", says eminent gastroenterologist Dr CL Venkat Rao who is also a director of Image Hospitals.
And how do hospitals make the profit by offering huge discounts? According to Dr Venkat Rao, the prices vary from patient to patient. "Many hospitals do not charge anything for white ration cardholders. For others they charge at normal rates", he clarifies.
It is not that every patient who participates in the bidding gets the tests done at discounted prices. The bids every day. Sometimes a patient may be lucky to get MRI scan done for just Rs 1500 or he may have to pay even Rs 5000 for the same test.
"Our concept works on the lines of airlines operators. Like airlines have introduced bidding for their vacant seats, we are offering discounts for tests at non-peak hours. We have been receiving about 100 calls a day since the concept was introduced on May 7 and 50 per cent of the callers have availed of discount benefits. Patients need not worry about the quality as the hospitals and diagnostic centres covered in our promotional campaign are of top standard", points out Mohan Kaushik, vice-president (marketing) of the company.
The company has opened a website offering a plethora of medical and health services both for patients and doctors. All they have to do is to participate in the bidding at the stipulated hour and quote their own price tag.
There are five offers on the website for patients to choose form. In the "Instabuy" offer, a patient can save up to 25 per cent on diagnostic tests if he or she required it immediately. One can save up to 50 per cent in the "Bidbuy" offer but will have to wait for a maximum of three days.
Patients may join Munnabhai Club and participate in auction for various tests. The auction starts at Re.1. Munnabhai will choose the healthcare provider but appointment may take a week.
Dr Venkat Rao, however, feels that hospitals may not sustain the heavy discounts for a long time. It is just a promotional offer. The prices may change at a latter date.
Senior radiologist Dr B Murali says it is possible to conduct tests at discounted prices if the number of films in MRI scan is brought down. "We take a series of films for MRI scan. Each film costs about Rs 300. If we take 10 films, the cost goes up to Rs 3000. The report is given to the patient without or with a limited number of films", he clarifies.
Though Apollo Hospitals is included in the Munnabhai list, it has backed out of the discounts offer.