Calcutta's ailing (and often lonely) geriatric population has been handed a lifeline: if they can't go to the hospital, the hospital will go to their homes.
Some of the city's largest private hospitals and several specialised care-providers now offer medical and non-medical assistance at home to people living with chronic illnesses or those who have had critical surgeries.
The service, although open to anyone needing home care, is a godsend for the city's growing geriatric population whose children are forced to work elsewhere because industry-starved Bengal can't provide them jobs.
The circumstances in which many young people reluctantly leave home - and their elderly parents alone - were pointed out by a school principal during a seminar on Saturday.
"We hand over our students to you (the universities). Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot because our students move out to other states and even other countries after completing Class XII. We don't want that at all," Damayanti Mukherjee, principal of Modern High School for Girls, said at the seminar, also attended by education minister Partha Chatterjee.
Metro highlights the pros and cons of various medical home-care and allied services that Calcuttans are availing themselves of, the majority of them elderly citizens living alone with nobody to care for them in the event of a medical emergency.
What is the demand for home care?
Huge, according to service providers. Apollo Home Healthcare, a division of the Apollo Group, launched its home-care programme in Calcutta in January and has already catered to more than 2,000 people.
"More than 80 per cent of those receiving these services here are the elderly. In other cities, it's 60 to 70 per cent," said Mahesh Joshi, CEO of Apollo Home Healthcare. "The social structure has changed with more and more people adopting the nuclear family set-up, which lacks a support system (outside the immediate family). Also, affordability (of paid home care) has gone up."
Medica Superspecialty Hospital, off the Bypass, has more than 6,000 people registered with its home-care service, launched in January.
TriBeCa Care, a private organisation that provides health care and other assistance at home, has had 99,000 bedside visits since starting its services in Calcutta two-and-a-half years ago. "Around 60 per cent of them are elderly people whose children stay in other cities," said Elina Dutta, founder director and chief strategy officer at TriBeCa Care.
At Woodlands Hospital in Alipore, about 30 per cent of the patients admitted seek home-care services after being discharged, officials said.
What are the services offered?
Two types of home-care services are provided by hospitals and agencies: medical treatment and companionship.
It is often difficult for an elderly person battling a chronic illness and whose children do not stay in the city to visit a hospital or a clinic for a regular check-up. This is where home care comes in. Elderly people can also opt for assistance to do personal tasks such as visiting a bank or buying groceries and medicines.
If an elderly person staying alone takes ill or faces an emergency, he or she can be attended to by doctors and nurses at home or a caregiver can move the person to a hospital and inform the family members and relatives.
Patients who have undergone major surgeries and need bedside care also opt for such services. "If a doctor says that a patient's medical condition is stable, he or she can be shifted home and all bedside medical care can be provided there. This spares the patient 10 to 15 days of hospitalisation," said Souvik Bhattacharya, general manager at Apollo Home Healthcare. "It also costs 30 per cent less."
Who are the service providers?
Some of the big private hospitals, including Apollo, Woodlands and Medica Superspecialty, all provide health care at home. The AMRI Group has just launched a pilot project in this space. Three AMRI hospitals in town have tied up with home-care agencies to provide medical assistance like dressing of wounds, physiotherapy and primary health care.
TriBeCa Care and Support Elders are among the other private organisations providing home care to the elderly and ailing.
What can someone opting for home care expect to get?
Home-care services range from a trained caregiver visiting someone's home to assist in daily tasks to setting up a mini ICU at home for a comatose patient.
The medical records of a patient are updated by nurses, who also ensure that the person is medicated. "Oxygen concentrator, equipment to assist breathing and special beds are now provided at home. A patient can be brought to the hospital if there is an emergency. We can also set up an ICU at home," said Alok Roy, chairman of the Medica Group.
Many service providers provide gadgets such as watches that come with an alert button. If pressed, the button sends a message to a centre manned 24X7 so that help can be sent immediately.
Depending on the package, there are visits by nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and nutritionists. Diagnostic tests are done at home too.
How to register for such a service?
Hospitals and home-care agencies have 24X7 helplines where people can register. Requests for subscription can be made online too. A patient being discharged after hospitalisation can get in touch with the hospital authorities for home-care services.
How much do home-care services cost?
From as low as Rs 250 for a basic service to around Rs 6,000 per day, depending on what type of assistance the patient requires.
What are the challenges service providers face?
The biggest challenge is getting quality nurses. "There is a huge demand and supply gap," said Bhattacharya of Apollo Home Healthcare.
Getting specialist doctors to visit a critical patient at home is another challenge.