When luxury is a necessity

Financial Express 30.04.2012
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My last submission in this space prompted many comments and e-mails. Some of the responses were so insightful that gave me ideas for future columns. So, thank you. Though there is one point I should clarify. I do not suggest that brands should always go local or to customise everything. But they must know their customers to succeed, and sometimes that means differentiated offerings in different markets. The key is not “local,” the key is “customer.”

Knowledge of the customer is critical in entering the luxury market and there are some firms committed to doing it properly. Given my business, I tend to focus on fine dining, wine and spirits, and travel. These luxuries are, by definition, not necessities. However, my recent experiences with the Indian health care system had me thinking about “luxury necessities.” A hospital is a necessity. Glbally, some groups are successfully making them luxurious. Unfortunately, the offerings in India are lagging.

A luxury hospital is not about having a coffee shop and staff trained in the luxury hotel industry. Luxury is about service and the quality of the product. In a hospital, the products are doctors and the care and outcomes they provide. India has the world’s best doctors. However, there is a disconnect between the doctor and patient in India. This is known because of my experiences concerning four different friends and relatives. Three are cancer patients and one suffers from kidney disease. Between these cases, I have experience with several so-called “top hospitals” in India. They were all poorly managed, rushed, and frustrating. The doctors’ examinations were perfunctory and yet the patients were told such convincing narratives about their futures that all thought they should simply head to the graveyard. This was with the top doctors, they seemed to care more about the high profile, reputation-enhancing patients rather than providing proper care to the patients.

One of my relatives went to three of the best hospitals in India. All informed him that chemotherapy would not treat his cancer. This was after the briefest of examinations! This same relative who was given such a bad prognosis in India went to see doctors in Bangkok and America. He was treated very differently there. The American hospital advised chemotherapy and it was a success; he had a full recovery. Of course, not all outcomes are so fortunate and my point is not to criticise any doctor’s judgment. Again, Indian doctors are world-class. The problem is one of process and approach. Due to budget concerns, doctors spend little time with each guest and hope to make up with quantity what they lack in quality. Especially the expensive private hospitals should realise they could make more money with better advice and more time per patient.

The best hospitals in Asia are investing in technology, patient relations, and more efficient administration. The focus should be on the customer: patient consultation should come first and support staff should make sure doctors spend time examining and treating patients, not doing administrative paperwork. When hospitals bring international branding to India, along with the best practices, they will win. If they get the regional adaptations right for different parts of India, they will win big. Medical tourism is poised to be a major growth industry and India deserves a huge share of that market. I hope we make ourselves ready to provide a patient experience that matches the training of our physicians.

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