Where do we go?
My son was playing in front of someone’s house when he took a nasty fall and landed right on his forehead. New parents tend to panic and overreact, but it’s hard not to when a bump the size of a cricket ball is starting to come out of your child’s head.
We didn’t really know where to go or what to do. We had a pediatrician, but her office was far away and she wasn’t there. What do we do?
Getting hurt or sick is never fun. It is immeasurably less fun when you do it in a country where you don’t know how the healthcare system works. Look over these tips for taking care of yourself and your family should you find yourself in need of medical attention.
Choosing a doctor
If you plan on being in India more than a year, it’s a good idea to have a regular doctor you can trust. No big surprise that the best place to find one is by asking an Indian or two for a recommendation.
There are a lot of fantastic doctors in India; there are also some quacky ones. One visit should be enough to determine if you are comfortable with someone or not. Not sticking with a recommended doctor will not affect your relationship with a friend that much, so you shouldn’t worry about it.
Doctors’ hours are pretty amazing. Many doctors will do rounds at a local hospital during the day and run their own practice in the evening hours. You should ask your doctor where their offices are and at what times they are there. Doctors are also usually available over the phone. I sent our pediatrician a photo of one of our kids over WhatsApp and she responded immediately.
If you don’t have a regular doctor, you can go to any local hospital and ask to see the ‘Duty Doctor’, or the doctor on call.
Choosing a hospital
There are three kinds of hospitals in India: Government Hospitals, Small Private Hospitals, and Big Private Hospitals.
Government Hospitals offer either free or drastically subsidized health care to anyone who comes. As an expatriate, you will be out of place here and it’s not really recommended to go unless it is the only nearby option.
Between the other two, it is largely hit or miss. Most expatriates feel more comfortable at the large hospitals, but they do not always provide the best care, and I’ve run into a fair share of quacks there as well.
The smaller hospitals are more of a gamble, but if you can find a good one nearby, they are great for less serious conditions. I’ve been really disappointed by some (like the one where the nurse tried to take a picture of my son while he was still screaming in pain), and really impressed by others (where they really listened to my problems and immediately took care of me).
If you are having a baby in India, there are some new specialty delivery centers popping up in the major metros that may be a good option. Wherever you decide, be careful of the extremely high rate of cesarean sections in India, and particularly with expats.
Bedside manners are not a strength of the Indian healthcare industry. If you happen to find a doctor who sympathetically listens and nurses who are attentive and kind (and there are many), be sure to thank them for it. Something about seeing dozens of patients every day tends to create an attitude of quick decisions, cutting you off mid-sentence, and not remembering what it’s like to be a patient. It’s good to bring a friend along with you who can speak up for you if you feel your doctor is not listening to you.
Doctors also nearly always prescribe medicine. In nearly every situation, you will go home with a fistful of tablets and perhaps an injection or two. If you are not so keen on taking a lot of medicine, be very careful of the kind of doctor you choose.
Healthcare costs in India seem unbelievably cheap, even without health insurance. For a regular visit, you have two fees: the doctor’s consultation fee and the medicine cost. Consultation fees can be as low as Rs. 200 for a neighborhood hospital to Rs. 1000 to a real big shot. Medicine is also priced quite low and extremely reasonable. A normal doctor’s visit for an infection might cost you about Rs. 750 or less for everything.
If you go to a large hospital, you might also pay a one-time registration fee, and room charges if you have to be admitted. The rooms are often tiered with nice names like Deluxe, Deluxe AC, Super Deluxe AC and so on. If you are on a tight budget you can ask to see the charges before they admit you. Otherwise, I would recommend going with the top-level.
Being confident of your healthcare options when you are in a foreign country is huge. Don’t wait until it’s too late, and make sure you have some knowledge of what you are getting into before it happens to you!
Image Credit: mynameisharsha on Flickr