A banking Midas touch on hospitals

Like any reasonable man, I do not like visiting hospitals. But working at the bureau, you get medical insurance and with a little discomfort, you rush to the hospital to satisfy that devil insurers call the moral hazard. I had agreed to return to the Nairobi Hospital but as soon as I saw those toll stations, I knew I would regret my decision.

I know this question has been asked before and possibly answered, that maybe hospitals should drop the plan to charge parking fees. I have always come across this argument that once malls and hospitals are prohibited from charging, rogue motorists will troop in just to avoid paying for parking.

That’s how far deep we are as a country, that we would rather tax a family into bankruptcy because of a hospital bill so that we can prevent rogue Kenyans from enjoying free parking.

That be as it may, I soldiered on, letting the machine frisk my car and issue me with a ticket, and all the while, I felt a little urge to undo my trip to the doctor. It is not a result of my not liking hospitals, but the last time I was here, I spent half of my day being diced around stations as if they were keeping me here long enough to pay more for parking. So, I was dreading the repeat of that drill knowing my anxiety at waiting.  

But now the problem is that I was convinced too easily by a public relations gimmick. They called me this day and told me it was customer service week and that they were calling to see if I had a good time at the hospital. I felt that had to be rhetoric, getting a call from a hospital during the customer service week was as if they wanted me to visit them again soon; who wants to visit a hospital, what do they think I am?

So, I thought maybe I should tell them I had a nasty time waiting in their queues but as someone recently told me, Kenyans seldom give feedback. Those suggestion boxes, those conspicuous scribbling on buses and trucks to “call this number if you see someone driving badly” are just that, a collective blind spot as a nation.

But then I thought better of it, rather than spoil the day of the marketing lady given random numbers of crazy Kenyans to lament about my experience, I asked whether they could email me the result. After I left in a huff the previous visit, I was supposed to return after a week or so for results of what appeared to me like some complex test.

But I was feeling good already, so I felt no need to go back and kept postponing, plus I’m a skeptic; these guys make Kes5.1 billion or 54 percent of their revenues testing people and selling drugs.

So long and short of it, I had never gotten around to collecting those results and I felt this was a good opportunity to see if the hospital had improved its efficiency. And like clockwork, they delivered the set of results to my email, and here I was hating on them.

I proudly presented their findings to NyarSindo and explained just how efficient the hospital had been during the customer service week. She looked at it like I was a little boy presenting what he thinks is an abstract painting, but what is really just gibberish. Now, who was going to interpret those ratios and percentages of enzymes and chemistry things? There was no shortcut, I just had to pay them a visit.

Knowing myself, I figured this was not going to be the friendliest visit the moment I entered and impatiently tailed the car in front of me, both of us looking for parking. So, the assumption that rogue drivers will fill the parking and sick people will not get space is just hogwash, the place is always full.

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If you have been to Nairobi Hospital, you know that entry into the building can be a little confusing. For the last couple of years, the hospital has been optimizing space on its 23-acre piece of land, putting up multi-billion facilities that one has to duck into boarded-up areas, and once inside, you get completely lost in a maze of tunnels and corridors that revolve like an infinite staircase.

So I get to one of the entry points and explain my predicament and I am told to go round, or rather follow a corridor to the end and turn right somewhere along some yellow labyrinths.

I find my way crawling to everyone in a lab coat for directions and when I finally get to the place I am supposed to be assisted, I am told to pick a ticket and wait my turn. I’m not a fan of cutting the line, but I figured I was kind of doing a second round here, what was the point of taking me through the horror they did the first time just to have this Greek interpreted?

The touch of private bank money on private hospitals have seen them adopt bank practices such as database management systems where you pick a ticket and wait for that lady, who never tires, to call your number.

At this hospital, that machine reminds you just how much it feels like to be in a banking hall complete with tellers, glass partitioning and very much ends with a withdrawal from your account.

After I impatiently wait my turn and explain my predicament that I felt I should have just been ushered into someone who can read and interpret Greek, the lady calmly told me to wait at the lobby and I will be directed to a triage.

It is a fancy name and if you hear the machine say it you think it is some complicated checking room, where you find this person in a lab coat and he goes on to take your weight, blood pressure, and a few other details.

When I was young, the nurse came into the doctor’s room and did that, now it has its own room and a computer assistant, calling up the numbers. After a long wait, another computer assistant calls you, this time directing you to the doctor. Another wait and you go show proof of payment and then are directed to the drug store, yet another counter where patients are attended via a computer-assisted queue management system.

Nairobi Hospital drug store is the real bank vibes. There’s this lady who approached me like those bank guards always at the ready to help you fill those complicated cheques and withdrawal forms.

She assists you to get a ticket and then you enter this room with black, comfortable chairs you find in bank offices where you sink in waiting for the machine to call your ticket. You go to a teller, give the prescription, and allow them a few minutes to shuffle between the drugs’ shelves to retrieve your medicine.

Then they run your insurance or mobile money through another teller, who then okays your drugs dispatch, and after long hours and perhaps a ruined day, you finally step out to your freedom.

It almost felt like efficiency, the need to cut inventory losses, and success factor goals on customer turn-around times are pushing hospitals away from those dreadful antiseptic washouts that scared us by what it meant for our health, into these monolith shopping complexes that are frightening us even more by what they can do for our wealth.

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