9 tips to help improve your Indian hospital experience

by neo

For the full joy of motherhood, Birthing Suite, Mallya Hospital

Back in the US, when Mrs. Neo was in labor, after every contraction, she asked Neo “Are you ok?”, much to the snickering amusement of the excellent nurses who helped Mrs. Neo during childbirth at a popular Bay Area hospital.

Mrs. Neo’s concern was misplaced – Neo did not, in fact, faint when he saw Mrs. Neo get her epidural anesthesia. He just got momentarily dizzy and had to lie down because he hadn’t eaten for more than 18 hours. A quick drink of (Mrs. Neo’s) orange juice, and a couple of crackers later, he was ready for anything Mrs. Neo was going to throw at him, including (literally) – the baby!

After Neo moved back to India, his immediate family has been involved in 2-3 illnesses that required hospitalization. And to the extent that hospitalization is always traumatic, overall his experience has been surprisingly good.

So here are a few tips that can help you in case you or your loved ones fall seriously ill in India:

1. You’re probably better off in a hospital than a clinic:

chaat shops that serve food that is tasty enough to justify the risk of stomach flu. (Actually the lack of a refrigerator in the roadside joints often means the food is likely to be fresher than in the overpriced restaurant you’re likely to visit. What (figuratively) kills you is usually the water.)

So if you do get a severe stomach flu (or even for existential breakdowns like “omg why am I not staying in India? I miss my parents so much! And look my kids are having so fun!”) you’re probably better off visiting a good hospital. (It’s better than wasting an hour hunting down the carefully hidden sign in font size 6 that says “Dr. Vidya’s clinic”, only to find that it’s closed because “madam didn’t come today”.)

Major hospitals are easier to find, are open 24 hours, and have everything you need in one place (including 24-hour labs, pharmacies and lots of other similarly out-of-place NRIs). When in doubt, just enter through the emergency section (they will usually have valet parking). Most hospitals have a separate pediatric emergency room as well.

(If a guard stops you, just shout “emergency” and proceed to park just about anywhere you please, though try not to block the only exit for the ambulance.)

2. Know where you need to go before you need to go:

restrooms in downtown New York is true for hospitals in India too. Except, instead of merely the “good” when it comes to restrooms, you need to identify the best (not a good, but the absolute very best hospital) in your area, before someone falls ill. 80% of your Indian healthcare experience will depend on choosing the right hospital.

Most hospitals need you to fill out a fairly long one-time registration form when you first visit (Neo always fills out “None” for religion, and “homo sapiens” for caste). So it’s not a bad idea to visit your preferred hospital for a routine checkup just so you can get registered and you’re familiar with the layout.

3. You don’t need cash, but keep it anyway:

You will pass the hospital’s “visual credit check” if you are well-dressed and can talk in English. Most good hospitals will start treating you right away (in the emergency room), without demanding you to register, show insurance or pay a “deposit” first. However, its a good idea to keep cash (or credit cards), just in case you’ve been partying so hard the night before that you might fail the visual credit check test.

4. Don’t panic:

Manipal Ambulance

Relax. This is just Neo’s opinion, but vast majority of patients who go to good Indian hospitals probably get well and go home, without feeling the need to tweet, blog or post on Internet forums. There is probably a smaller, unhappy minority is much more motivated to let everyone know (sort of like one (ok, two) of Neo’s ex-girlfriends). So, once you’ve chosen a good hospital, stay optimistic but alert.

5. Be polite:

Good Indian hospitals are extremely busy, and many of the staff who speak to you will be overworked and low on sleep. But being polite can get you to places where no one has been before. Neo once got the hospital administration to break one of their strictest rules – they allowed the patient to be discharged and go home even though the insurance claim was still being processed (see point 9). All by being polite, patient and generally seeming like the kind of nice guy who could be (and probably is) playing tennis with the hospital CEO’s son.

6. Understand the difference between hospital administration and healthcare staff:

Reception Desk Lobby at Wockhardt Hospitals,bannerghata Road,bangalore

Neo cringes when he sees people yelling at the nurses about some room issue (usually the air-conditioning or the lack of the Cartoon Channel for their totally unmanageable child). This is about as productive as complaining to the DMV about the poor condition of Highway 101.

Make sure you address all non-healthcare concerns to the hospital administration. The quality of your room and the efficiency of the billing department is orthogonal to the quality of your healthcare. (The converse is also true – don’t let a swanky room lull you into thinking the healthcare must be good, too!)

7. Doctor reputation matters:

Just like in your high school, in every hospital department (e.g. pediatrics), there are 2-3 alpha doctors. The nurses and other staff are busy trying to suck up to these guys, which usually (and unfairly) translates to better care for their patients.

So make sure you choose your doctors wisely. In an emergency, if you don’t know the name of any doctor, just ask for the “head of department”, or “HOD” for short. (In South India, you don’t really have to pronounce the H like “hetch”. But maybe it helps.).

8. Get the most expensive room you can afford:

Royal Suite at Wockhardt Hospitals,Bangalore

Most hospitals offer a wide range of rooms. The lowest end will be “general wards” where the number of illnesses being passed around comfortably exceed the number of illnesses being treated. The highest end will be the presidential suite featuring panoramic views of the Bangalore skyline, and a Cisco telepresence room in case you need to have a meeting with your army generals in the Gulf about the situation in Iran.

But even if you don’t need to video-conference while having your appendix removed, you are probably better off with the more expensive rooms, simply because they have a higher nurse-to-patient ratio. Also, competition between the nurses usually ensures that the best nurses are assigned to the more expensive rooms.

In theory, the doctors are common to all the rooms, although the higher fees they earn from the more expensive rooms might mean they are “sold out” for the less expensive ones.

Plus, the better rooms have Internet access, so you can read up about your illness in real-time and make last-minute changes to your will, depending on who shows up to meet you and who “calls it in”.

9. Understand how insurance works:

The hospital will assume you are paying cash unless the word insurance comes out of your mouth during the check-in process. At that point, the check-in lady who’s having a bad day as usual will hand you a completely different set of forms than the ones you just finished filling out. You then need to visit some euphemistically named “Corporate center” (usually near the main entrance to the hospital) to get the insurance claim started.

And do follow-up with the insurance representative in the hospital – If your insurance claim is not approved before you are ready to be discharged, you need to pay your entire hospital bill in cash and the insurance company will reimburse you later. (This is the worst-case scenario. Neo hasn’t had this happen to him yet.)


That’s it! This is one set of tips Neo hopes you will never need. And as always, keep in mind that all the information above is just the subjective view of one pseudonymous blogger who often faints at the first sign of a needle. So do your own research!

Do you have any more tips ? Let Neo know in the comments!

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