Marcus Welby Is Alive and Well in the Far East

Is it the culture? Just a different approach to doing medicine? Whatever it is, it's good for hospital patients.

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After a week spent touring hospitals in India and Singapore, during which I made a point of talking with patients without hospital officials hovering nearby, I have come home with two strong impressions. One is of an extremely high level of care. The other is of an equally high degree of caring.

Every patient, most of them American, spoke gratefully but disbelievingly about how often their doctors visited them before and after surgery, and about their kindness and concern. It seemed as if hardly an hour would pass, they told me, without the surgeon or another physician taking a few minutes to drop by, chat for a bit, and make the human connection that patients ache to receive.

Sure enough, not once was I was in a patient's room for more than half an hour that a couple of doctors wouldn't pop in to check the patient and cheerfully shoot the breeze. U.S. patients consider themselves fortunate if they see the surgeon for more than one brief postop visit. ("HowareyoufeelingMr.ComarowLet's takealookatthatincisionNiceseeingyou.") If other doctors cross the threshold, you can bet a bill will arrive from a "consultant."

"We care for our patients the way we would care for a member of our family," an Indian doctor told me. How easy a claim to make. But the patients I interviewed will say it's true.

Unrelated observation: On my way there, I went economy class all the way. I flew eight hours to London, killed a few hours at the Heathrow Airport, and flew 12 hours to Bangalore, India. Coming back, I flew 17 hours from Singapore to London and wandered dazedly through Heathrow again until the eight-hour flight to Washington, D.C. I do not advise doing this. It was dumb. I can't sleep on planes, economy class on international flights means the same cramped seating as on a 250-mile domestic jump, and I didn't build in any recovery time between flight legs. I did get out of my seat every so often to stretch, hoping to avoid blood clots in my legs. But it was brutal. Go business class on long-haul flights, and give yourself a day between long legs.