Hospitals rework Covid-19 narrative as pandemic takes toll on trust, biz

Given the scale of the pandemic, the fear of going to a hospital is high as is the outrage over their pricing methods
The Coronavirus has pinned all of the country’s healthcare system on the ropes, but its impact on private hospital chains has been particularly bruising. Caught in a storm of regulations on the one hand and shrinking business on the other, as patient footfalls decline and routine consultations come to a halt, the hospitals also face charges of inflated pricing and callous care. Trust is running low and the big chains, Max, Apollo, Fortis and others are keen to retune the pitch with new services, online consultations and an aggressive social media engagement policy.

The chains are hoping to shore up business and trust. Hence apart from the numerous packages around the pandemic, such as a wide range of home-care-and-quarantine schemes, the hospitals are also running awareness campaigns, about the virus, 
about their adherence to protocols and their online consultation platforms.

Hospitals need to build up their community connections at a time when the relationship is strained, experts said. The pandemic is severely testing the patient-doctor and patient-hospital ties and this could turn out to be detrimental for both in the long run. HS Chhabra, medical director of Indian Spinal Injuries Center in Delhi points out that hospitals are under pressure but one can’t do without them. “We need to consider the fact that institutions need to survive, and if they collapse, it defeats the whole purpose,” he added. The point he makes is that the outrage over hospital care costs may be counter-productive, if it ends up shutting the facility down altogether. 

Few outside the hospital system see his point though. Given the scale of the pandemic, the fear of going to a hospital is high as is the outrage over their pricing methods. How must hospitals assuage such fears and restore trust?

 

The newly launched home quarantine packages are aimed at addressing these issues. 

One, it takes the hospital into the houses of people and in some cases, into community spaces that are doubling up as isolation centres within residential complexes. And secondly, the hospitals have used a transparent pricing mechanism to assure customers that there is no subterfuge in the service.

Apollo Hospitals, Max Healthcare, HN Hospital (Reliance Foundation) and Fortis Hospitals are among the big chains that have launched packages for home care for Covid-19 patients. The packages are similar and come with a break-down of the charges for each service.

Ambi Parameswaran, brand strategist and founder of Brand-Building.com believes that this is an opportunity that could give hospitals a much needed shot in the arm and should have been done earlier. “Social media is full of negative publicity around Covid-19 wards, sanitation conditions of public sector isolation centres and so on. With reputed brands getting into it, patients will opt for their services,” he said. 

The Apollo Group has clubbed all its Covid-19 facilities under the umbrella of Apollo Kavach. This helps consolidate all the brand engagement initiatives and focuses customer attention too. “We pooled in our resources to address all the needs and it is convenient for the customer too,” Mahesh Joshi, CEO, Apollo Home Care said. 

The service has been extremely popular says Joshi and he adds that Apollo was operating a home healthcare vertical since 2015 and hence could make the transition without a glitch. “Not a new thing for us,” he says. Apollo's home healthcare division typically looks after 400 patients a month and the Covid-19 package, launched about ten days back, already has over 100 patients. 

Hospitals have also launched an aggressive social media campaign around the service as well as their role in the community. Jasrita Dhir, head of brand, marketing and corporate social responsibility, Fortis Healthcare said that Fortis launched its ‘Living with Covid’ campaign on May 26. The campaign talked about safe commuting, the impact on sleep, how to operate an ATM, how to do grocery shopping, how to reopen the doctor clinics, advise for pregnant women, for elderly, for diabetics etc. “Conversations around the ‘new normal’ is what we were trying to build. This was done through messaging platforms and social media,” she said. 

Many hospitals are focusing on community outreach, arranging for motivational calls for quarantined patients from those who have battled and survived the virus, from leaders and well-known personalities and so on. “This works better than medicines,” Joshi said.


Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel