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29-02-20 by Gitanjali Chandrasekharan & Jyoti Shelar, Mumbai Mirror


Good doc just got better LtoR: Dr Paresh K Doshi - Neurosurgeon, Varkha Chulani - Clinical Psychologist, Dr Harish Shetty - Psychiatrist, Dr Jaishree Sharad - Cosmetic Dermatologist Being available, and online, is becoming almost as important as in the clinic. An inside look at the public relations machinery bolstering the work and image of top medics. The trusted GP whose fame was celebrated but limited to the neighbourhood he practiced in, is fast disappearing. The trusted GPs say so themselves. This is the age of the specialist; the one who tweets between surgeries, shares firstof-their-kind case studies with health correspondents, and hires a public relations firm to oversee damage control. It's not such a bad thing, you realise when a senior PR executive recounts the conversation he had with a friend from the industry about how they saved senior doctors affiliated with a top city hospital from hara-kiri. Enthused by the recovery the survivor of a shocking sexual assault was showing, the doctors were set to hold a press conference a week later. "They planned to tell the press that the survivor was feeling cheerful, and they had decided to waive off Rs 1 lakh of the hospital fees," he says. The hospital's communications in-charge stepped in after explaining why the doctors' decision was a poorly judged move. The final press brief that went out was clinical and accurate, listing the patient's medical progress with no mention of bills. Reach out they must, to stay ahead of pitiless competition and spread the word on breakthrough techniques. But when credibility - and popularity - is measured by what's said about you in the media (social, included), hospitals and doctors are ensuring they have some control over the narrative. The extent of that control was evident to this writer when the communications head of a suburban hospital, who was approached for this feature, pointedly asked, "Is this a sting-operation kind of story?" Mohan Rajan, head of Mumbai PR firm Paradigm Shift, says it's necessary for hospitals to have a PR set-up in place to help them present the good work they are doing in a manner that appeals to the media, and thereby citizens at large. "Besides, hospitals today, other than serving humanity also have to run on sound business lines," he adds. Marketing hope One of Mumbai's best known cardiovascular thoracic surgeons, Dr Ramakant Panda is the CEO of BKC's Asian Heart Institute, and a darling of the press. Publicity, he admits, is crucial to support the hope that medicine represents. "Healthcare stands for hope. It's the duty of doctors to keep the flame of hope and treatment alive by sharing life-saving stories, through the media, some of which are nothing short of miracles," says Panda, famous for the coronary artery bypass surgery he performed on outgoing PM Dr Manmohan Singh in 2009. Dr Paresh K Doshi, director of neurosurgery at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, agrees. While he doesn't have a personal PR, he supports the hospital's decision to put together a team that handles publicity exclusively. He remembers the case of a 64-year-old Parkinson's patient who was wheeled in, unable to talk or walk. "We performed deep brain stimulation on the Andheri resident, treated him for a week and followed it up with athome care. Within a month, he was able to talk, sit and communicate. Had they known this option was open to them, his family would've approached us two years ago, they told me," says Doshi, highlighting the need to use media to spread awareness. Doshi runs a privately managed website that's linked to Jaslok's home page. It helps patients, especially foreigners travelling to India for medical treatment, to access accurate information about various procedures. This 'mediafriendly' behaviour is only a couple of years old, and makes even the busiest specialists accessible to the media. Where personal contact details aren't available, PR personnel pitch in, at times even listening in to conversations on conference call. Awareness is key Visibility may not be about advertising alone. "We don't measure footfall in terms of rise in number of patients after a publicity exercise," says a PRO. Sometimes, it's about reaching out to members within the community, explains Parag Dhurke, communications in-charge Gloocal Communications. Annual Women's Day camps allow them, for instance, to discuss genderspecific osteoporosis risk. And at other times, it's about harnessing the power of the press to make an immediate difference. "This is especially true in say, organ donation cases where there is still some resistance. If the family of a brain dead patient waiting for organ donation is ready to speak to the press, we facilitate it." Dr Gustad Daver, president of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Committee (ZTCC), a body instituted in 1998 to coordinate cadaver transplants, sees reason in the argument. "Our main intention is to educate and motivate;