With more women working, marrying late and the baby count falling, healthcare marketers have found a new, niche segment for a maternity product; a 360-degree package, aimed at “celebrating motherhood”. The attractively packaged programme comes with a promise of an experience “to remember and cherish.”
So out goes the drab, erstwhile Labour, Delivery and Recovery (LDR) rooms for a more plush facility with fine, upholstered beds, hidden medical equipment that swirls into focus only when needed, TV, DVD players and unlimited visiting hours.
And when the new mom is ready to leave the facility with her “bundle of joy”, she is not unceremoniously discharged. She is lovingly “seen off” by the friendly hospital staff with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a box of chocolates; and if she is lucky, she is bundled off in a hospital provided, chauffer-driven car, as befits a new mom.
Although still an urban phenomenon, the package, branded differently at hospitals is targeted mainly at working, affluent moms-to-be, 60% of whom end up choosing deliveries by appointment, that is, Cesarean sections (CS), according to a senior obstetrician, requesting anonymity.
For this section of women, the Apollo Group, for instance, has a service called “cradle”, offered at all its group hospitals with a single-room maternity package. “We have tried to convert what is perceived as a ‘hospital experience’ into a happy experience, ” says Ratan Jalan, CEO, Apollo Health and Lifestyle, adding, “for the couple.”
Bearing testimony to this, Cradle features vibrant pre-labor rooms for the mom-to-be, candle-lit dinner with champagne for both parents, father’s participation in the birthing and delivery process, besides flexible visiting hours for an unending stream of visitors.
“Globally, from America Online to Walt Disney,” says Jalan, “Successful Companies build their brands around personal experiences. Pizza Hut offers more than a meal—it also hosts your child’s birthday party, complete with a candle lit cake and amusements. One of the hippest Companies, Starbucks, is admired for its ability to connect emotionally with the consumer. In my experience people willingly pay a premium for good service. That’s what we have attempted to do at Cradle.”Incidentally Apollo is not alone in making the most of this market demand for motherhood. Others, such as Sitaram Bhartiya Institute of Science & Research runs, a nine- month “birthing programme” priced at Rs 11,000 for five classroom sessions—featuring guest lecturers by a senior obstetrician, pediatrician, dietician, fitness expert and child psychologist—each one hour session ending with a healthy snack.vNot surprisingly, after this treat, most women end up choosing to deliver at Sitaram Bhartiya.
“We did about 1,300 deliveries in the past two years and our CS rate is only about 50%,” informs Anindita Baidya, senior manager, marketing and programme development at Sitaram Bhartiya. “The birthing programme obviously helps, because elsewhere if you check, the CS ratio would be much higher.”
About the popularity of the programme, Baidya says, “We have been maintaining a steady flow of clients on word of mouth publicity and goodwill. Encouraged by the response and in keeping with the changing market dynamics, we have now started reaching out to the masses through free counseling workshops and testimonials.”
In terms of media preference, she cites print and radio, where spends are about Rs 2 lakh per annum—not substantial, but good for a category of service, which has yet to cut mass appeal.
Not to be outdone, Fortis Group’s La Femme has a “very private”, very well-appointed wing at Greater Kailash II in Delhi that runs an Antenatal Care Programme (ANCP). This is structured trimester-wise to help the expectant mother deal with stress at every stage of her pregnancy. The interactive sessions, similar in design to Apollo’s are held on weekends to make it convenient for working parents-to-be to attend. The complementary sessions (for those who opt for a delivery at La Femme) include a module on nutrition, pre-natal counseling, lifestyle management, preparation for labour and childbirth.
The approach must be working as Dr Jasbir Chandna, who practices at Fortis La Femme vouches, “Women who attend our programme are easier to handle. They come mentally and psycholo-gically prepared into the LDR. They are aware of the medical processes and their options (for example, use of epidurals). I prefer them to patients who walk into the labour room absolutely raw, not knowing what to do, how to cope with the pain etc.”
One popular feature of these programmes, is the hospital’s insistence on spousal participation. “This comes in handy later. A spouse’s support can be very vital at such a time,” asserts Dr Chandna.
Cost wise, the deal can work out steep—if a plain Vanilla delivery costs Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 and a CS Rs 43,000 (for single room category, excluding variable costs), a premium package (inclusive of pre- and post-natal care at any of these upmarket establishments (Apollo, Fortis or Sitaram) can work out to Rs 60,000-70,000 or above, inclusive of the doctor’s fee, diagnosis, tests, counseling sessions etc. A reason why “these are carefully targeted only at the upper income group,” admits Apollo’s Jalan.
This skew is also evident in Jalan’s revelation that less than 20% of such deliveries are medically insured (incidentally, these days many insurance providers do insure planned deliveries too) primarily because cost is not a deterrent for this section of the consumer. Apparently, what they are more interested in is exclusivity and premium service, that’s happily given.
“We figured out that our customers want a family experience. They want a non-threatening, happy environment,” explains Jalan. “These couples have no more than one or two babies, so birth is an important event in their lives. It’s often an excuse for a big celebration. We give them that, by taking our service beyond the delivery point.”
Indeed, a lot of women who have availed these services agree. Says Suchita Gupta, who had enrolled for Sitaram Bhartiya’s birthing programme, “I loved the look of their LDR. It didn’t remotely look like an operation theatre. There was a comforting leaf imprint on the walls, and an attendant was allowed to stay with you, at all times of my stay. The room was very private, I could chat, call up friends, watch TV, do whatever distracted me from the pain