Over the last week, pediatrician Pankaj Kumar could feel something shift in his work. New patients consulted him not only because of his practice at a hospital chain in a metro city, but also because he was specifically recommended to them by his other patients. Importantly, most of these new patients consulted him virtually, largely via video calls. This popularity is usually reserved for ‘star doctors’, those whose branding could eventually compete with that of a hospital’s. 

Hospitals have traditionally assigned the ‘star’ label to doctors, mostly surgeons, who attract hundreds of patients a week and conduct several surgeries a day for at least two decades. This is the kind of volume that government hospitals see; or if you’re a doctor at a private hospital, the kind that takes decades to build.

“In other departments, I have seen that some doctors are seen as stars because of their pre-existing name. But it comes (sic) after a good amount of experience,” Kumar told The Ken.

These doctors are also some of the most visible ones in their field, often making the rounds at medical conferences, sharing results of groundbreaking treatments. The visibility and their level of experience often end up making them the ‘face’ of the hospitals they work at, attracting 2-5X more patients than peers with a similar level of experience but who haven’t attained the popularity of a star doctor, said a senior executive with a Delhi NCR-based hospital that has earned its name on the back of star doctors. The executive requested to remain anonymous.

It is a 300-year-old rule, said a retired surgeon, who was a senior executive with two of India’s largest hospital chains. The traditional way of becoming a star doctor is to spend 25 years in one city and build volume. “And by the time you reach 55 or 60 years of age, corporate hospitals begin offering them head-of-department positions and a share in the revenue or profits,” he said.

But the pandemic has levelled the playing field for younger doctors like 42-year-old Kumar. Increased demand demand The Ken Covid forces Manipal, Narayana Health to re-examine their hospital math Read more  for teleconsultations, patient reviews on these platforms or shared experiences on social media, and the ability to adapt to technology has given them a quick leg up. 

Kumar, for instance, used to see seven to eight patients a day pre-pandemic, none of which were virtual consults. That’s grown to 10-12 patients a day now, but barely two or three patients come to see him physically anymore. The rest consult him through his hospital’s online platform. This is a clear shift from pre-pandemic times when even a young, talented neurosurgeon would see only one patient even after sitting in her office for over an hour, the surgeon quoted above told The Ken.  

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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