When we founded TaCa, we took a pledge that come what may none of our teammates would let empathy fade away from our communication with our patients. We believe that patients need a listener, who can patiently hear their problems and suggest them solutions like a friend.
And when we began our call support, we thought that since ours is an elective surgery service we may not require 24/7 patient helpline, but still we went ahead and ran a pilot. And to our surprise we started getting so many calls from day one.
The team shared with me many stories of people who call—some who call for fun, others felt night helplines are escort services, and many were genuine callers, patients who needed our services. Since we are a small team, it was becoming difficult for our call support team to take increasing number of calls. So, the senior management team decided to take calls one by one at night to give rest to the calling team.
We decided to take all the calls between 10 pm and 6 am. The day, it was my turn, Soiddharth, head, patient support team, switched on the call forward to my number.
At 10:30 pm, the phone rang.
I said, “Hello, I am Dayaram from TaCa Healthcare – I masked my identity with that of my driver’s. Mein aapki kaise sahayata kar sakta hoon?” the line given to me by Soiddharth was part of the script our most executives follow to begin a call.
The voice on the other side was husky, and of a middle-aged man. He said, “Mujhe TATA ki gadi kharidini hai. Kya daam lagega? (I have to buy a TATA car. How much would it cost?)’. Well, many people mistake us for TATA as our name sounds similar.
Our first office was at a co-working space in Gurugram. Some of my colleagues used to park their cars in a space reserved for employees of a Tata car dealership. They told me that the guard himself directed them to it thinking they were with TATA the first day he heard our company’s name.
So, as a matter of courtesy, I returned the favor by providing the TATA car showroom’s number to this gentleman, who called our helpline.
After that my phone rang a dozen times in quick succession, but the caller was disconnecting the call in 5 seconds. Soiddharth had already warned me that these generally are the ‘for fun’ callers.
It was 1 am now, and I was sleepy. I was sure that no one would call me to inquire about elective surgery at night. And I almost decided to restrict our services to daytime only.
But then my phone rang at about 1.20 am. The caller hesitantly asked how much we charge for gallstone treatment. I asked him his name, age, location – again information we use to filter an ‘actually in need’ patient. The caller paused and replied that a friend was recently diagnosed with gallstones and was worried about the cost of the surgery his doctor had advised him. And he, who works as a guard, was surfing through the internet when our ad popped up on social media. Another 5 minutes of conversation made him trust me and he shared the details of the patient–his friend’s wife.
The next call came at 3 in the morning—the caller, a worried father wanted to know if surgery is the only treatment for hernia. The patient was his four-year- old child. He had already consulted a doctor, who advised surgery but he wanted a second opinion. A middle-class man, he had already spent a lot on consultation and diagnostics. He had to arrange money for the surgery but he also wanted another doctor to confirm the need for it.
When I told him that at TaCa, consultation with a highly experience surgeon is free, I could feel the relief in his voice. We spoke for about 20 minutes.
I can imagine how restless he must have been feeling when he decided to dial our number at 3 in the morning.
As I pour my favorite coffee, at 4.50, my phone rang again. This time the caller was a woman from Bhopal, whose sister has piles. From the symptoms she explained, I could figure out that it was a case of Grade-IV piles and she might require a surgical intervention. The lady was hesitant to consult a doctor for this disease and it took me some time to convince her for it. Finally, I did, and I guided her to our clinic in Bhopal.
My shift was over, but Taca’s mission has just begun. We are determined to make surgical care accessible to people who avoid or delay it for factors such as money, stigma, fear, lack of awareness.
And I decided that our 24/7 patient support system is going to stay, and our senior management will continue to take call every now and then to improve our services.
– The writer is co-founder, TaCa Healthcare