I received some answers in respect of Pune where Anita's Daddy and Mummy (my in-laws) live. Pune (population 4.5 million) is a large city, but a fourth of the size of Mumbai which is 220 Km (140 miles) away. Moreover, in terms of business activity and infrastructure, including in healthcare it is a relative backwater.
Still, Mummy needed an eye cataract surgery and we restricted ourselves to local options. There were several challenges. We wanted the pre-operative tests and prep, the main surgery and the next day follow up visit to be completed while Anita and I were there. Daddy and Mummy have lived for decades in their second floor walk-up apartment. They haven't wanted to move, and as Mummy can now hardly walk leave alone climb stairs, she hadn't been outside of her apartment for two years.
Happily, everything has worked out well so far. One of Pune's leading eye surgeons, Swiss-trained Dr. Rajeev Raut had performed cataract surgery on Mummy's left eye eight years earlier. On December 27th he operated on Mummy's other eye and her prognosis is very good. She has been taken to Dr. Raut's clinic three times by stretcher and ambulance and has three subsequent follow up visits to go. Here are some remarkable aspects of our experience:
1. Accessibility. In the US it would have taken a week just to get an appointment to discuss our case with a doctor, and over a month to schedule a surgery. In the busy Raut clinic I just walked in and explained my problem. The helpful counter ladies instantly pulled up the history of her prior surgery and asked me to wait. In ten minutes I was taken to Dr. Bhargava, the coordinating physician who spent the next half hour with me. He outlined the pre-surgery tests needed, and arranged the urgent scheduling needed for the surgery and two days of crucial follow up care to be accomplished in the seven days that Anita and I were in Pune. He also had the staff give me the contact information for the clinical labs and ambulance services we needed to use. Within two hours I headed back home after (a) securing the schedule at Raut Clinic, (b) arranging for a clinical diagnostic lab to have their health technician come home the following morning to collect pathology samples from Mummy and deliver the test report that same evening, and (c) arranging for an ambulance with helpers to take Mummy by stretcher from her apartment to the vehicle and then on to Dr. Raut's clinic 3 miles away and back.
2. Competence and care. The five doctors at the clinic involved in Mummy's care (Dr. Rout the eye surgeon, Dr. Bhargava, ophthalmologist, anesthesiologist and general care physician) were all efficient, responsive and caring. Dr. Raut enjoys a great reputation in Pune and looked to be up with the latest techniques. I gathered that on average he performs five or more surgeries in a day starting at 7am and then sees numerous (I'm guessing about 30) other patients. Yet he spent the time needed to discuss Mummy's case with us during the preliminary and post surgery visits. The way he cupped Mummy's face and stroked her hair the first time after examining her visibly soothed and reassured her. The rest of the staff was polite, helpful and efficient as well. The halls in the clinic had a lot of examination stations and equipment manned by dedicated technicians. The whole process had a smooth, streamlined feel to it, like I've seen in good US physician offices, though the patient throughput here was higher and the spaces packed more tightly.
3. Ambulance and ancillary services. Americans would laugh at the ambulance vehicle that we used. It's a converted Maruti Omni minivan ("microvan" is a more appropriate term) powered by a 0.8 liter 3 cylinder engine and has a wheelbase smaller than a Cooper Mini . Still, it holds the patient on a 20 inch wide stretcher with docking frame and rails plus four other people including the driver, and is good for negotiating Pune's narrow, busy roads. The ambulance driver and two helpers adeptly moved Mummy between the apartment and the vehicle via the stairs, and were reliable and responsive. Once at the clinic we had plenty of help to transfer Mummy to a wheelchair in the parking lot so that she could be taken up two floors to the clinic in the tiny elevator that holds 4-5 people.
4. Cost Comparisons. This is like saving the best for last. Here are the costs we incurred as compared to estimated US prices (those too at the "negotiated rates", not the "list prices"):
-Clinical pre-operative blood and urine tests including the three home visits by the technician to collect the samples and deliver the report at the end of the day -- Rs. 500 ($13) in all. US costs without home visits would be $150-$200.
-Ambulance transportation and evacuation charges including the services of two helpers and a driver including tips -- Rs. 500 ($13) each way. US cost: $200.
-Pre-operative examinations, consultation and tests (including ECG and eye tests after dilation) at the Raut clinic -- Rs 900 ($24). US cost: $150.
-Total surgery package cost including all physician fees, intra-occular lens and 4 follow up visits -- Rs. 24,000 ($600). US costs at Medicare rates (an awfully hard number to pin down by the way, because of complicated and secretive billing systems): $3,000.
- All medications for the next few months, and medical supplies -- Rs. 1,600 ($40). US costs: $300.
In sum, we'll end up paying $900 in Pune for care that would cost $6,000 in the US. Moreover, the steps including the actual surgery and the two days of crucial follow-up care were accomplished in the 8 days Anita and I were at Pune to help Mummy and Daddy out. I'm guessing that would have been enough time in the US to get our first consultative appointment, though in fairness there are a lot of positives in the US experience that I haven't gone into.
Now we're back in the US and Mummy is progressing well in Pune with Daddy's help. Anita's cousin Rita is traveling from Mumbai to Pune to accompany Mummy on her second follow up visit to Dr. Raut (when she gets her prescription glasses) on January 7th.