The Dawn of the Age of Hospital Amenities

If you’re keeping up with current health news you’ll notice that dengue fever has returned with a vengeance this year, where Jakarta alone recorded 1,042 cases this year including its Governor and the little me. While Aedes Aegepty mosquito bite rendered the Governor a short rest at home last week, yours truly had to spend eight long days at hospital last month—throughout Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year, if I may add.

But this is not about nasty dengue fever. This is about how health business, as I closely observed last month and during Mom’s bout with lung infection in December, has apparently gone quite far to provide comfort for patients in addition to curing the illness.  At least compared to the last time I was hospitalized, which was when Soeharto was still in power.

Back then the only extra comfort beyond standard that I enjoyed, and bear in mind I was staying in one of Jakarta’s best hospitals, was to choose between the Oriental and Western menu. Nurses would dutifully change bed linens and give a sponge bath in bed every morning, but that was about it. I even remembered Mom brought me toiletries from home.

These days dental and shower kits are packaged inside a nice pouch, along with a foldable mini hairbrush and packets of wet and dry tissues. Add a vial of eau de cologne it may just pass as in-flight amenity bags for business and first classes.

Meal menus are also much more robust. Nutritionist would pre-select according to instructions from your attending physician, but in my case they were still exciting that I actually was looking forward to meal times irrespective to the fact that anything that passed my feverish mouth would taste like cardboard. One time I even got mad at my own nausea, one of the common side effects of dengue fever, because it got in the way of polishing off a plateful of pasta served that day.

Yet the cherry on top was the hair-wash service. I’d read it somewhere but didn’t get to witness it myself until Mom’s hospital stay in December. During my own stay last month at a different hospital I asked if such service was available, and to my delight it was. In both hospitals the service was performed by outsourced professional salon personnel, armed with a portable version of the washbasin normally installed at hair salons. They’d expertly maneuver hospital beds and pillows so patient wouldn’t need to get out of their pajamas, much less bed, during the entire 20-something minutes of hair washing and blow-drying. The price is slightly higher than regular salons and billable to your room charges, not unlike in-room spa treatments in hotels.

You may chuckle at this as some sort of misplaced vanity or a bad case of OCD, but not until you’re strapped on a hospital bed for days with needles poking into you along with various illness-related pain and distress that you’ll come to truly appreciate how physically comforting it can be to have a little water and shampoo cleansing your hair. Suddenly your head feels lighter, your shoulders much less knotted, and your body somewhat normal again. Even when your blood trombosit count freefalling to 21,000 from the low normal of 150,000, the food tastes like cardboard, and all your joints are turned into jellies.

After recuperating and regaining some my wits I tried to surmise what has driven hospitals further into the hospitality, almost pampering, side of the business.  And there lies the immediate answer already; business. The rise of income levels has also brought the increasing need for good service and certain degree of personal ease, and I think more Indonesian hospitals finally realized they’d need to step up their game if they wanted to remain in the game. The competition doesn’t stop with among themselves domestically, but increasingly with their counterparts in neighboring Singapore, Penang and Hong Kong, to mention a few.

But would hotel-type in-room services be sufficient to retain reasonably moneyed Indonesians to seek medical assistance domestically? Certainly not. At the end of the day, when you’re sick, you want to be cured as soon as possible with as low of pain as feasible. Doctors’ professionalism and hospitals’ medical facilities remain the pivotal factors in patients’ decision to obtain medical assistance, especially for long haul treatments. Indonesian doctors are getting better, but they need to get better a bit faster.

While we get there, hair wash service for patients and fully-retracted sofa bed for patient’s family member staying overnight remain a considerable plus for those unfortunate enough to be checked in for medical care, as this recently admitted patient could testify to.

As published:

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