Helping hands who open new doors

Welfare officers urge poor patients to get treatment they deserve

I try to convince poor patients that it is better they seek treatment in private hospitals rather than standing in a queue here for hours,” says Rupali Mudgal, a patient welfare officer at Hedgewar Arogya Sansthan hospital.

Mudgal is one of the patient welfare officers (PWOs), inducted by the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) in October, 2013.

For the first time, the role of a PWO was created last year who would help raise awareness among poor patients to seek treatment in private hospitals.

 “The basic role of a PWO is to identify EWS (economically weaker section) patients and refer them to the private hospitals listed under the DHS,” says a top DHS official.
The officers, who hold a post-graduate degree in sociology or social work, tell patients of the advantages of going to private hospitals.

“Most of the times they are reluctant as they say they feel unwelcome in private hospitals. We give them the referral forms so that they do not face any problems there,” says Mudgal.

The patients with BPL cards or income certificates are chosen from the queues in OPDs. The indoor patient department (IPD) patients are referred to by the ward doctors following which the PWOs forward their referral forms to the private hospitals. The PWOs report to nodal officers in respective hospitals who supervise the process.

“We go around during the OPD hours telling poor patients that this option of treatment is available. There are posters all around the hospital with the same message,” said Neelam at Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital (DDU).

The patients, however, have a mixed response. In some hospitals, the OPDs for the patients belonging to the economically weaker sections (EWS) are located in a remote corner of the campus.

Or at times, they come back to the government hospital claiming they were asked to pay for medicines which they cannot afford.

“We call up the private hospitals when we send patients for admission. But patients for OPDs are sent with referral forms. While some patients are satisfied, a few come back saying they were harassed,” says Priyanka at DDU hospital.

Currently at least 150 patients are referred by the six welfare officers posted at the hospital.

Patients referred

In the year 2013-2014, over 10 lakh patients were treated in OPDs and around 37,000 in IPD in private hospitals, says a DHS official.

However, the number of patients referred to in the private hospitals has gone up only after the appointment of the 77 PWOs across all government hospitals.

There is, however, no target number of patients that a PWO has to achieve in a month.

“We encourage them to send as many patients as they can,” says the DHS official.
According to data available with DHS, not a single patient was referred to private hospitals from Lok Nayak Hospital from January-September, 2013.

However, after the appointment of the PWOs, the numbers have gone up to over 2,000 till April 2014.

“On an average, 350 patients are referred to private hospitals by the nine PWOs. We usually do not face many complaints as the PWOs coordinate with the private hospitals before they are sent. This ensures that the patients receive hassle-free treatment when referred,” said Dr Siddharth Ramji, medical superintendent of LNJP.

While the number has climbed to 358 in between October-April from six referred to in the first nine months at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital (GTB), in Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital the figures have multiplied by almost five times.

“The hospital reported that 1,398 were referred to private hospitals after the appointment of PWOs as against 267 reported from January-September,” said a source in DHS. 

PWOs are also responsible to coordinate with anganwadi and ASHA workers for overall welfare of the patients.

“We have to build strong links with anganwadi workers to identify patients who are reluctant to seek treatment for any particular reason. We also coordinate with departmental heads so that they refer patients for diagnostic services also. If the CT scan machine is not working here, the patients can be referred elsewhere. Monitoring of the patient is actually being treated at the private hospital is the most important bit,” said Jyoti, one of the six PWOs at GTB.

PWOs can now directly stamp the referral forms and send patients to private healthcare centres.

“It used to take a long time before getting the approval signature of the nodal officer. Now, PWOs can directly stamp the form. However, it is
better to keep nodal officers in the loop,” said a PWO, requesting anonymity.

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