Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Healthcare-Around the World.

I saw this really interesting documentary on PBS on how some of the richest nations in the world handle healthcare for their citizens. And it wasn't surprising that the US ranked the last among them in terms of cost, service and efficiency.
These are some of the points that I gathered from the documentary. If I had enough time, I would have probably organized it a little better.

Looking at the countries that were covered in the program: Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland, this was the common traits that the healthcare system all possesed:
1) Insurance Companies have to accept everyone and they cannot make profit from basic services.
2) Everyone needs to buy insurance, either through their employee or through the government and the unemployed get free insurance.
3) All the Doctors and hospital have fixed prices for everything, 1 hospital can't charge a different amount for the same procedure compared to other hospitals.
4) Nobody goes bankrupt from paying their hospital bills compared to about 700,000 people in the US.
5) There are no gatekeepers, which means you don't have to see your GP(general practitioner) before you can see your cardiologist or gastroentrologist.
6) The downside, well if you can call that, is doctors and hospitals don't make much money as compared to the US.
7) The insurance providers strived to keep their operating costs down, for all the countries it was in the low single digits whereas in the US, it is around 22 %.
8) The proportion of GDP follows the same script as well, it was in the single digit for all these countries whereas in the US it was almost double at 16%.

Now the features of the healthcare systems in each of this countries:-

1) Great Britain- You get no bill from the doctor/hospital. Everything is covered by taxes. They focus more on preventive medicines since there's no ulterior motive to make money from you when you are sick.

2)Japan- The government sets the prices of all the treatments thus maintaining control over the healthcare costs. Everyone is covered by insurance, either by work insurance or community insurance. They have the longest life expectancy and the lowest infant mortality rate.

3) Germany :- Everyone is offered healthcare and while the 90% of the population choose the national system, the rich get to opt out and can pay their bills on their own. The insurance pays for everything even for spas and ballet dancing :)
The waiting time to see a doctor or getting a procedure done is faster than Britain but slower than Japan. Pregnant women pay nothing and copay is about 10 euros every 3 months. Medical providers and sickness funds negotiate to keep the prices down. Drugs are cheap since they negotiate as a single entity thus reducing the scope of negotiations.

4) Taiwan:- They turned out to be the smartest of the whole bunch and compared the healthcare policies of all the good systems and took the best policies out of each. Every citizen has a smart card which contains all the health records(If you visit more than 15 times, you are audited) and all the medical bill goes to the national insurer.

5) Switzerland:- They had a system very similar to the US but in 1994 they held a referendum to change their system which passed by a wafer-thin majority.(lucky them!!).The insurance providers cannot pick and choose on whom they provide insurance to. The providers make their profits by trying to keep their operating costs down and trying to attract new customers.

I am going to end this by quoting what one of my friend told me the first time I was in the US and when I was planning to visit a Doctor for a slight fever, which is sad but true. "Don't go to the doctor or the hospital unless you really feel if you are going to die'.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Crossing Roads.

I came back to Bombay yesterday after an official trip to Bangalore for a week. When I came to Bombay 10 days ago, I was too scared to cross roads but after visiting Bangalore, I think I can cross roads in Bombay with my eyes closed :). Yes the traffic in Bangalore is so bad that it has to be seen to be believed. Every day that I was there I saw one kind of accident or the other. Even the car that I was travelling in got hit on the side one day. If the favourite topic of conversation in Minnesota is about the weather then it's all about traffic in Bangalore, everybody has a story to share or know someone who have been in an accident. If I start to compare Bombay and Bangalore, the first thing that comes to my mind is the number of 2 wheelers that I saw on the road and the number of cars with single occupancy in Bangalore compared to Bombay where most people prefer to travel in buses or trains. The public transportation in Bangalore is not that developed from what I have heard from the locals there. The city still seems to be coming to terms with the rapid influx of people into the city and I must say people with lot of spending power who can buy bikes/cars and would rather travel in rickshaws/taxis rather than use the buses. The state government is trying to fix it by launching a metro rail and coming up with various ways to resolve the traffic issue but it seems there are in a catch-up mode, the moment they complete some new roads/flyovers, its already saturated by the growing number of vehicles. Bombay had the same issue about 3-4 years ago, but they got a huge grant from the World Bank and a wise dude from the World Bank imposed a condition to not furnish any more funds unless they showed substantial improvement triggering the development of wide roads. On a side note I have heard people say Bangalore has a fantastic night-life, unless I missed something and not if you consider the period from 7 to 10 pm as night-life, there's nothing else to do after 10. The whole city seems dead after 10.30 whereas in Bombay everything seems to start after that.
I am off to my native place Tirunelveli tomorrow, not sure how long I can stay there without getting bored. Am loading up on a couple of books 'The World is Flat' by Thomas Friedman, the book that everybody in business school is supposed to have read and 'Freakonomics' which is considered to be an interesting read.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All set to go.

I am all set to go to India after about 18 months now and did I need this vacation really bad. I haven't taken a vacation this entire year trying to save up all my vacation days for this trip. But my vacation doesn't start officially till Dec-5.
It's kind of hard to go during Christmas since it's the time of the year where you see bright lights, christmas carols and everybody seems to be happy and having a good time. Also will be breaking my routine of going to NY for Christmas for the 3rd straight year but I made up for it by visiting NY in October.
Back to my vacation schedule, have to go to Bangalore on an official trip for a week and then back to Bombay for a day and then fly back with my parents to my native-place in Tirunelveli. My folks are sure going to be excited seeing me after a long gap and also to travel in a plane for the first time in their life. I had to book a Air Deccan flight but I wish I could have taken them on a better airline like Kingfisher or Jet Airways. Trivandrum which is in Kerala doesn't have lot of options and it's kind of funny that it's closer to my place which is in Tamilnadu, a different state. But the way things are happening in the aerospace industry it won't be long before there is a connecting flight to Tirunelveli, asking for a direct flight will be too much.
Can't end this post before mentioning the shopping that I have done. Had to study for an exam till the very last moment so didn't got much time to shop. I still managed to buy a Sony DVD Handycam, IPod Touch(it's really sleek), couple of noise-cancelling headphones, memory cards and the customary chocolates.
I am going to be back on Jan-21 and start my Spring semester the same week and with 3+2 classes back to back, will be really busy in the spring and the summer.
Happy Thanksgiving, Christmas and a happy new year to anyone who reads this post which I doubt there are many :)


Thursday, October 25, 2007

What is Woot?

I am trying to get some shopping done before leaving for India and was on the lookout for a good mp3 player. During my search, I chanced upon this website www.woot.com
This is not a traditional website like Amazon or buy.com. You can't search for products to buy here, you buy what they give you. They usually have a deal once every day some of which are pretty good and some ordinary stuff, based on what I have seen till now. And during the course of the day, they introduce items in really small quantity, so the first ones who get to the site are the big winners while the rest of them wait and watch for the next big deal. And true to its quirky nature and the way they operate, they actually have a 'Bag O'Crap' sale which sells for a buck plus 5$ shipping. It can contain total random stuff but has been rumoured to contain expensive electronic items as well.
It seems to be a pretty good strategy creating a sense of artificial scarcity and selling stuff that people would rather think about for a long time to buy. Since you don't have much time to think you are basically put into a situation where you buy stuff that you actually don't need, just because it's a good deal.

I think the classes at the U are beginning to pay off, I can relate to some of the stuff that they teach, to what these guys at woot.com are doing and to some of the business scenarios taking place in the real world. Although most of the strategies and techniques used by this businesses don't look standard, they are definitely variations of things that have already been done and I guess that's how you create a killer business or product by constantly innovating and doing something which other's have not.
In the meanwhile, waiting for the next deal to appear on Woot!!!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

I love Google Docs.

I have been using Google Docs for quite a while now but have just begun to realize its true potential. And I think it is the best thing that has happened to me in a while, in terms of technology. I use 3 different laptops, 1 is my work laptop, the other is the big, clunky Dell Inspiron and my new Sony Vaio with Windows Vista on it. Why don't I get rid of my Dell Brick, well Vista doesn't support any of my webcam or image editing software. I am digressing here.
To make a long story short, I use any 1 of the 3 machines to do my school work. And before Google Docs came along I would have to use a flash drive to copy stuff around and then merge the copy, which was a big pain. But now I just log into my google account, create a word document, spreadsheet or even a presentation now, which I haven't tried extensively since it just came out a week ago. And any time I work on a different laptop I just need to be online to access my copy.
It has got some really cool features where you can export them into different formats or look at the version history. Although it doesn't provide all the options that Microsoft Office provides, I guess people don't even use about 90 % of the options that MS Office provides for their day-to-day work.
Although Google Docs is trying to replace Microsoft Office in the long run, I am not sure how successful that strategy is going to be. How many people do you know would like to store their documents online especially confidential office documents? And even if Google provides an offline storage there will still be skeptics around who would wonder how come such a thing is free.


Friday, September 07, 2007

iPhone Price Cut - Apple Faux Pas??

Apple cut the price of the iPhone by 200 $ just after 10 weeks of its much hyped launch. I don't own a iPhone but it would have given me a bad feeling if I had bought it at its original price. Ever wondered how the latest model comes out or the price goes down immediately after you have bought a product. That's life but the price cut by Apple would have been too much to take even for hard-core Apple loyalists. After a huge backlash against the price cut and the feeling of being punished for being an early adopter, Apple decided to give a $100 credit to the people who bought the iPhone at the original price. Talk about a clever plan, you give the money and make them spend on Apple products again. Nice !!
Now back to the price cut announced by Steve Jobs, was it a shrewd move or a hasty one. Considering how Steve Jobs helped Apple bounce back from its heady days of being an innovative but low profitable company to the current profitable chic consumer electronic company, this price cut seems to be part of a long winded strategy to get more people to buy iPhone's as possible. The quickly approaching holiday season could be another factor behind it. I had read an article sometimes back on how cheap it is to manufacture an iPod or a iPhone. It approximately costs around 1/3 the price of the actual product and the costs goes even lower considering the economies of scale. So Apple still makes boatloads of money after the price cut it announces for its products every season.
Only time will tell, if this price cut had a short-term damage to its reputation due to the negative publicity or increases Apple's profitability and market share in the next few years. I bet on the later.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Decisions, Decisions.

I am part of a club called 'ToastMasters'. The name of our club is McKToast and we meet every Wednesday in a conference room in my office to practice our speaking skills and listen to some great speeches. We have contests from time to time in different categories such as 'Inspirational', 'Humor', 'Tall-tale' etc. This week we had a humorous speech contest and I signed up for it. Although I had a week to prepare, I was really busy and decided to drop out but the organizers forced me to give a speech and I had to write up something in a day and hardly any time to rehearse my speech. The idea behind me choosing the topic was that my colleague and friends here are really curious on how the marriage process works in India. So I decided to do some reading and based on that and my own experience, decided to give a speech on how marriages are arranged in India. I have exaggerated the speech in some places to get some laughs out of the audience.

Here is the transcript of my speech.

Decisions, Decisions

There are a lot of decisions in your life that you dread about making. Paper or plastic, regular Coke or diet Coke, salad or a burger, Playstation or XBox. For me choosing between KungPao-chicken and Sesame Chicken at Village wok was the last important decision that I had to make. And always wanting to take the safer option I asked my friend to order the Sesame chicken while I ordered the Kung-Pao chicken.

I would be lying if I said getting married is not on my mind, no matter how much I try to forget it, people make a point to keep reminding me at every opportunity that they get. I talk to my parents and there are absolutely no pleasantries such as hello or how are you doing, they cut to the chase and start talking about the girls that they are planning to line up for me. I will be lucky if they don’t show up at the airport with the girls and force me to pick one at that moment.

I mention about my trip to India and people start asking oh you are going to get married, I wish I had a dollar every time somebody asked me that. Also I wish I knew myself if I was going to get married, I would wear a T-shirt that mentioned it.

I am extremely lucky in the sense that my parents are liberal in the way they approach the marriage process but not liberal enough for me to get married to a blonde girl, there goes my teen fantasy. I won’t even go into details on how marriages are fixed in different communities unless you have an entire week to listen to me. But in general they consist of the following steps with some differences here and there:

1. Broadcasting Availability:-

This usually happens by spreading the news among family and friends that the boy or girl has reached the marriageable age. With the advancement of technology, online matrimony sites play an important role now. This are not dating sites, I repeat not a dating site, people who are ready to commit to marriages are the only people who sign up at this sites and it is not uncommon for the first contact to be made by the parents of the bride/groom instead of the person who is going to get married.

And everybody wants the perfect man/woman. For guys, the girl should be a stunner, smart but humble, down to earth, and definitely a good cook while for girls the guys needs to be financially secure(translate that to working abroad), have a good sense of humor, no smoking/drinking and extremely understandable.

I have never seen a profile which says I am short-tempered or I don’t get along with people which makes it all the more important for the people to talk to each other and also the next process is supposed to predict the future problems that the couple might have.

Now onto the second step:-

2. Horoscope Matching:-

This is the most important step in the marriage process. It doesn’t matter if the persons who are going to get married have absolutely nothing in common, but if the horoscope matches, everything is supposed to be good and they have the go-ahead to move onto the next step which I will explain shortly. But all hell breaks loose if the horoscope doesn’t match, it’s a straight rejection after that without taking into considerations any other factors. Astrologers play an important role in identifying what matches and doesn’t match and their word is the last word. But if the persons involved decide to get married with the horoscope mismatch, anything bad that happens after that to anybody on the face of the earth, you are responsible, America attacked Iraq, your fault, Pluto is not a planet anymore, your fault, you get the idea and this is all since you didn’t listen to your elders and got married to the person with the bad horoscope.

To be fair, the way that it’s justified is that more marriages end in divorce in the western world since the horoscopes are never matched compared to India where horoscopes match are a must.

3. Getting to know part :-

This starts with exchanging the pictures and setting up a date where the boy’s family visits the girl’s family. This is preceded by background inquiries which I can tell you is more detailed than the background checks that the Dept. of Homeland Security carries out. It involves finding out about the person’s educational qualifications, job positions, character, the test whether the guy smokes/drinks or not is a favorite. I still remember the day when I was entrusted the important responsibility of checking the educational qualification of a guy for my cousin’s proposal. I was briefed before meeting the guy and I was supposed to speak only in English with him and my uncle was to observe how the poor guy responded. Talk about an interrogation.

4. Engagement:-

Once all the getting to know part is done, the couple gets engaged and hopefully gets a chance to meet without the full family in attendance. The all important astrologer comes into picture again to choose the auspicious date for the marriage.

I think no matter what happens everyone can probably relate to this quote which the great ‘Anonymous’ wrote. He has more quotes attributed to him than anyone else.

“Getting married is very much like going to a restaurant with friends.
You order what you want then when you see what the other person has, you wish you had ordered that.”

Here is an audio recording of my speech which one of the club members was kind enough to record.

I did improvise a little and the lack of rehearsal shows in some places. I am not sure how humorous it was but I did get a second place prize for it.