Brenda Musoke walked into Paragon Hospital carrying a crib. In it lay her beautiful two-month old baby girl Hanna. Musoke, an employee of Moringa Ogilvy, looked a happy mother, a title she had always wanted and prayed for. She had finally received what she had asked of God. But not as easy as she thought.
Baby Hanna had come into her life a month and a half early on September 26 when in fact she was due October 12.
“She was in the incubator for a long time,” Musoke says. But she believes that because she had chosen the right hospital for delivery, she knew they were both in good hands.
“I can only say good things about this hospital. They took very good care of us,” Musoke who has returned for postnatal care says of Paragon Hospital in Bugolobi. A private hospital, Paragon opened in February 2007. Today it serves 10,000 clients although the number of cases varies. You wonder what the magic is? Doctors are available when you need them. And if you wonder where all the doctors have run to from government hospitals, check in the private hospitals and clinics like Paragon, Case Medical Centre on Buganda Road, Kampala Hospital in Kololo, Abii Clinic in Wandegeya, International Hospital Kampala in Namuwongo, May Medical Centre on Bombo Road, AAR on Clement Hill Road, and Kadic Clinic in Bukoto and Nakulabye.
If the general doctors and specialists are not resident doctors in these hospitals, then they are just a call away. “The most they can take to get here is 30 minutes but we have doctors in this hospital 24 hours, seven days a week,” says Dr. Patrick Kanyike of Case Medical Centre.
The private hospitals have given a new name and spin to medical health care in Uganda. While many Ugandans make a bevy of lines at district, regional and national hospitals, private hospitals are mushrooming around Kampala to take advantage of the poor health care provided by government hospitals.
Some still argue that the best specialists are in government hospitals, particularly Mulago, but what the private hospitals have done is to provide services with good customer care and pay doctors willing to work with them handsomely to stimulate desire to work.
A doctor at Case Medical Centre and SAS Clinic earns Shs 1.5 million while at Abii Clinic a doctor earns Shs 7,500 per patient. At Paragon a doctor earns Shs 1.1 million while at Kibuli it is Shs 1m.
This compares unfavourably to a Senior Consultant at Mulago who takes home Shs 900,000 after taxation.
“Our system seems to be the best around town. I am earning a lot this way rather than fixed salary. Every patient I see means a lot to me,” says a doctor at Abii Clinic who migrated from Mulago Hospital.
This money excludes allowances and is very attractive because doctors don’t have to see very many patients as is the case in government hospitals where patients trickle in by the minute.
Private hospitals have also trained their doctors and nurses to mind that they handle their patients in a tender and caring way because attention to patients matters a lot and helps in the healing process.
Take Kibuli Hospital for example, at the reception sits a very kind receptionist who smiles at every patient that walks in as she asks how she can be of help. The receptionist covered in Sharia from head to toe does not tire of welcoming patients, giving them directions and answering queries. Something very hard to find in government hospitals.
And when you walk into Paragon’s gates, it’s easy to mistake the hospital for a luxurious hotel if you don’t pay attention to the signs spelling out the different departments; Paediatrics to the right and Maternity to the left. The gardens are well groomed, flowers are blossoming around the hospital. A fountain towards the reception is a favourite attraction for children. Inside the hospital all staff from the receptionist to the doctors make it their duty to ask people in the lounge whether they have been attended to.
And yet again this scenario is mirrored in many other private hospitals. The difference lies in how much a patient pays in consultation fees to see a general doctor or a specialist.
At Paragon Shs 15,000 is paid to see a general doctor while Shs 25,000 is fee for a specialist. At Case Medical Centre, a patient pays Shs 30,000 for consultation on the first visit and then Shs 20,000 each visit after.
Case Medical Centre, owned by Dr. Sebbaale A. Kato, was recently upgraded from a small clinic sitting in what used to be a residential house on Buganda Road to a six storey building with a spacious lounge fitted with DStv for the waiting patients and their attendants.
The hospital has suggestion boxes and complaints books that when a patient is not satisfied with service they can leave a comment.
Thinking that it is just formality, Mariam Nassali left a comment that she was dissatisfied with the services. “I couldn’t believe it when the doctor called me to ask what my concern was. He asked me to go back but I couldn’t. That call meant a lot to me as their patient,” Nassali says.
Call it personalised customer care just to make sure every patient’s needs are taken care of lest they choose one of the competing hospitals that offers pretty much the same services.
Most of these private hospitals now have an ambulance on stand-by for emergencies. They all have well dressed staff. Not your traditional nurse in white with a cap, no make up, no smile, flat white shoes, no jewellery. In private hospitals nurses wear a range of colour purple, green, pink, some choosing a different colour for each ward.
The nurses in private hospitals are allowed to look modern with jewellery, make up and nail vanish.
Past the receptions to the rooms is also a different story, depending on which hospital you walk into. At May Medical Centre, patients are fixed in small cubicles separated with neat boards.
At Paragon, Case, AAR, IHK, Kampala Hospital, all the rooms are self-contained and are charged depending on what type of room a patient prefers or what ailment the patient is suffering from, like at AAR.
Rooms are fitted with well patterned drapes, white bathrooms, comfortable king size beds like the case of Paragon, and TVs.
The menu also boasts of a balanced diet and patients are not allowed to carry food into the hospital because feeding is part of the hospital charges.
And yet with all the ease, comfort and absence of that hospital smell, some patients still flock to Mulago National Referral Hospital, arguing that the wealth of experience is there.
That while doctors in private hospitals will look young, friendly and comfortable to be around, they don’t have enough experience to make correct diagnosis as they have just stepped out of medical school. This makes it harder for patients to trust their diagnosis with some asking for older and more experienced doctors. Some private hospitals actually allow a patient to walk in with their own doctor who the patient pays while paying for the hospital’s facilities at the same time.
“We have admission rights but a client can walk in with their doctor if she thinks we have the facilities she needs,” says Nicholas Odong, the Health and Social Marketing Executive at Paragon Hospital.
The hospitals also have insurance schemes where a patient can open up an insurance account with the hospital to ease payment of bills when an emergency comes.