Doctors and medical practicioners working for India’s government run hospitals are being accused of endemic corruption.
It’s claimed some are carrying out unnecessary tests to receive financial kickbacks.
One group of doctors is now calling for the system to be cleaned-up, forming the “Society for Less Investigative Medicine”.
Digamber Rawat rarely emerges from the tiny windowless room he shares with his parents because an illness has wasted away the strength in his legs.
His family can’t afford private health care, but they must pay for it anyway, even when they go to free government hospitals for help.
21 year old Rawat says when he visited a government hospital in central Delhi, a doctor ordered private X-rays and scans that could have been performed in-house.
“When we go to the hospital lab for tests, they give us the name of a private clinic and say ‘Go get it done there and then we will look at it.’ (Bhavna Devi interrupts saying ‘They make us go away’) When we get it done from where they tell us and bring the reports back to the hospital to show them, they say ‘Why did you get it done from there, why not from here?’,” he says.
His mother Bhavna continues: “We are made to stand in queues all day without food or water. We come back home from the hospital at 8 pm, but our work doesn’t get done�the hospital authorities say the doctor hasn’t come etc�”
Tests at the hospital lab would have been 1,500 rupees (USD $25). At a private clinic, they cost more than $130.
Rawat’s story is played out across India where hundreds of millions of poor people, without any kind of health insurance, are forced to seek medical treatment at private clinics because of poor services and corruption at government hospitals.
Those clinics are widely accused of ordering unnecessary tests to run up costs.
Health care costs push some 39 million people into poverty every year in India, according to a 2011 study in the Lancet medical journal.
Dr. K Srinath Reddy is the president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a non governmental organisation. He says too many doctors order unnecessary tests.
“It has become an ingrained practice to overinvestigate and spare less time for clinical history taking or a proper clinical examination, which will give you a lot of valuable information. And I think, therefore, its partly poor training, partly poor attitude towards the patient investigation and evaluation, and of course, there is a perverse financial incentive of doing more tests, which will earn more money, either for the institution that employs them (doctors) or gives individuals kickbacks,” he says.
The practice is so common that in July, doctors at India’s best-known teaching hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, formed a group to counter it – the Society for Less Investigative Medicine.
Dr. Balram Bhargava is a cardiologist and the founder of the Society for Less Investigative Medicine (SLIM).
“I feel that only relevant tests should be done, it’ll cut down the costs, one. Two, if the relevant tests are done we get the correct treatment�we are able�we will get the correct diagnosis, and therefore give the correct treatment, and three, it is important that the patient doctor trust be started before any tests are done”, he says.
Officials say cleaning up the Indian health service is a priority.
But no plans to curb corruption in private hospitals have been outlined yet.
According to the World Bank, India currently spends less than 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product on health, among the lowest in the world.
India’s economic boom has seen the proliferation of hundreds of shiny new private hospitals, mostly in urban areas, but less than 20 percent of Indians can afford to use them.
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