Investigating the nature of competition facing private healthcare facilities: the case of maternity care in Uttar Pradesh, India

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Abstract

The private healthcare sector in low- and middle-income countries is increasingly seen as of public health importance, with widespread interest in improving private provider engagement. However, there is relatively little literature providing an in-depth understanding of the operation of private providers. We conducted a mixed methods analysis of the nature of competition faced by private delivery providers in Uttar Pradesh, India, where maternal mortality remains very high. We mapped health facilities in five contrasting districts, surveyed private facilities providing deliveries and conducted in-depth interviews with facility staff, allied providers (e.g. ambulance drivers, pathology laboratories) and other key informants. Over 3800 private facilities were mapped, of which 8% reported providing deliveries, mostly clustered in cities and larger towns. 89% of delivery facilities provided C-sections, but over half were not registered. Facilities were generally small, and the majority were independently owned, mostly by medical doctors and, to a lesser extent, AYUSH (non-biomedical) providers and others without formal qualifications. Recent growth in facility numbers had led to intense competition, particularly among mid-level facilities where customers were more price sensitive. In all facilities, nearly all payment was out-of-pocket, with very low-insurance coverage. Non-price competition was a key feature of the market and included location (preferably on highways or close to government facilities), medical infrastructure, hotel features, staff qualifications and reputation, and marketing. There was heavy reliance on visiting consultants such as obstetricians, surgeons and anaesthetists, and payment of hefty commission payments to agents who brought clients to the facility, for both new patients and those transferring from public facilities. Building on these insights, strategies for private sector engagement could include a foundation of universal facility registration, adaptation of accreditation schemes to lower-level facilities, improved third-party payment mechanisms and strategic purchasing, and enhanced patient information on facility availability, costs and quality.

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