Hospitals must give the promised service

False claims about high success rate and offers just to attract consumers come under unfair trade practice

Pushpa Girimaji

Since we did not have a child, my wife and I decided to try out in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) embryo transfer procedure. We chose a hospital on the basis of an advertisement which guaranteed success. They were also giving a big discount to celebrate their annual day and said the cost of procedure would be only Rs 25,000. However, the procedure was a failure and my wife did not get pregnant. They suggested a repeat of the treatment but by then, we had already spent more than Rs 1 lakh as against their promised charges of Rs 25,000. With great disappointment, we declined. Now I want to file a complaint against the hospital and the doctor for the failure of procedure and also for charging more. What kind of evidence do I need to collect for this?

This seems more like a case of unfair trade practice — first and foremost, the hospital promised guaranteed success, but that did not happen. They should not have made that promise, given the fact that the success rate, according to various studies, varies from as less as 11 per cent to as high as 40 per cent depending on various factors, including the age of woman. And no study talks of 100 per cent success. Second, they promised that the procedure would cost only Rs 25,000, but collected more than Rs 1 lakh from you. So get hold of their advertisements, brochures and whatever else you can get, showing their false promises on guaranteed success and the cost of treatment.

Along with this, keep the cash receipts showing the total amount collected by the hospital and also pregnancy test showing negative results. This is adequate to show that the hospital made false claims about the success rate and also about the discounts, just to attract consumers like you and make a quick buck. This was totally unethical, as they played with your emotions. Ask for refund of the entire cost of the treatment, plus interest, compensation and punitive damages for the mental agony undergone by you on account of their false promises.

Can you quote a recent case, if any, pertaining to a similar issue? 

Let me quote a case decided by the Apex Consumer Commission on May 9, 2018. Here too, the complainants approached the hospital on the basis of their promise of treatment for Rs 25,000, but were charged more than Rs 1 lakh. The other allegation of the couple was that the hospital was deficient in the service rendered in that the IVF Embryo transfer had failed. The hospital suggested a second try, which they refused. The couple also said since they had two daughters, they wanted a male child and this was promised, but not fulfilled.

  The hospital on the other hand argued that they could not have promised a male child as it was illegal and there was no such promise in the advertisement. Their brochures also clearly mentioned they cannot give 100 per cent success, as the success rate was only 20 to 30 per cent. 

While the District Consumer Disputes Redressal  Forum, before which the couple  filed a complaint, dismissed it, the  State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission awarded a compensation of Rs 2 lakh, along with 7.5 per cent interest.

The National Commission, on the basis of the evidence placed before it, said no deficiency could be established in so far as the failure of the IVF was concerned, as the hospital literature clearly mentioned the success rate. However, there was unfair trade practice in so far as the false promise about the cost of the treatment, and for this, the couple ought to be compensated. So it reduced the compensation amount to Rs 50,000 to be paid jointly and severally by the opposite parties one and three, along with seven per cent interest. (Sidharth Charitable Hospital and Ors Vs Balwinder Kaur and others, RP No 1215 of 2013, date of order: May 9, 2018)

  Your case is slightly different in that you were deliberately misled not just about the cost of the procedure, but also about its success rate. So long as you have proof of those promises, you can certainly get a refund, compensation, punitive damages and costs.

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