Dr Raghunath Godbole from Pune has given his patients the free hand to decide how much they should pay as consultation charges. He has been doing so quietly for the past eight years before his unique practice was highlighted in a Facebook post by fellow Pune resident Ashish Rathi on June 21, 2017.
The post reads: ‘When specialist doctors are charging Rs500 to 1,000, this doctor had a display board which asked patients to voluntarily pay any amount as consultation fee. Giving importance to patients over money is not possible without altruistic heart.’ By the midnight of June 22, it had garnered 36,000 likes, 11,000 comments and 18,000 shares!
The display board at the reception of Dr Godbole’s consultancy says: ‘Patients will decide the amount of fees they wish to pay.’ It also mentions: ‘Medical representatives should not give any gifts.’ His effort attains significance at a time when the medical fraternity is divided over the cut price issue. The matter was raised earlier this month when Asian Heart Institute, one of India’s leading heart hospitals, put up hoardings across Mumbai condemning the rampant practice of doctors and hospitals receiving commission to get patients.
A gastrointestinal and laparoscopic surgeon, Dr Godbole began started his practice in Pune on January 1, 1984. He made the move of making consultation and follow up charges voluntary in 2009 when he completed his 25 years of medical practice in the city. “Around that time, I did not have any responsibility so to speak, as both my children had completed their education. In order to celebrate my 25 years of practice, I came up with this golden mean between free OPD on the one hand and rigidly fixed charges on the other hand,” said the 61-year-old. He added he wishes to continue practising with the same rule till he is 75.
“Not a single day goes by when patients do not knock my door to thank me. I have received more than 100 handwritten letters from patients, who have thanked me for this initiative. At the end of the day, I just check the amount I’ve made. I do not see who has given what amount. The payment ranges from anywhere between Rs5 to Rs500. Most people pay honestly. But I must say, I make much less than contemporary market rates,” smiles Dr Godbole.
He added, “Once you accept gifts from medical representatives, you are obliged to prescribe drugs of a particular company. By not accepting gifts, you are free to prescribe any drug which you want and which suits the patient the most.”
The 10-bed hospital owned by Dr Godbole he has reserved three beds as charity beds. “The needy patients only have to pay hospital charges, and are given partial or full concession for operations,” he said.
Dr Godbole consults 10 patients every day and his assistant sees 15 follow-up patients at his Sadashiv Peth clinic, while he consults 10 patients at his Apte Road clinic every day. “I consciously see limited number of patients every day so that I can give them optimum time. Also, if I start seeing unlimited number of patients it will affect my health,” said the mountaineering enthusiast.
When asked about the cut practice debate, he said, “I find the menace of cut in our profession has increased recently. I welcome the idea of the government mulling a law on the same.”
Dr Godbole said he wants young surgeons to follow this model. “If you make consultation charges voluntary, you will not have a dearth of patients. You will gain wide experience, which is very important for any young doctor,” he said.