Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Dr. Transformer: Devi Shetty’s Amazing Mission of delivering affordable healthcare to all

As an entrepreneur and a citizen committed to improving our nation’s healthcare system I often have the opportunity to meet with and interact with eminent individuals who share my passion for the greater good. One such individual who has set himself apart by his sheer passion and dedication is Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty. It is not easy to describe someone who wears so many hats so well – ace cardiac surgeon with over 15000 surgeries under his belt, compassionate philanthropist, tireless reformer, and a visionary entrepreneur.

Dr. Shetty is unquestionably a pioneer in his field of cardiac health and also in reforming the healthcare system – always leading from the front. For instance, he was the first doctor to perform a neonatal heart surgery in the country. His legendary expertise and awesome experience in pediatric cardiac surgery and healthcare operations enabled him to establish a state-of-the-art training institute for cardiac surgeons. His interactions with Mother Teresa as her personal physician gave him the impetus in his mission to serve the nation’s underprivileged populace.

Undaunted by the infrastructural and financial challenges that all us early entrepreneurs have grappled with, he turned a marshland around a cement factory into the world-class Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital that today treats patients from all over the world along with thousands of underprivileged from India.

That our healthcare industry faces three main challenges – creating a robust healthcare framework, increasing public-private partnership and improving cost effectiveness – was something he figured out early. By creating Narayana Hrudayalaya and similar healthcare facilities and through the public-private Yeshaswini comprehensive healthcare scheme that covers over 2.5 million poor people in Karnataka for as little as Rs 5 per day, he has shown the way – if there is the will and passion.

Dr. Shetty’s success as an innovator and reformer of the healthcare system can be attributed to his vision and keen business acumen. Of the several pain points in our healthcare system, Dr. Shetty’s strategies focus on three key areas that ensure proper delivery of effective healthcare – accessibility, affordability and competency. Patients visiting his clinic have instant access to information on the cost and quality of healthcare they will receive. His insurance schemes ensure affordability. Finally, excellent compensation packages for his team of doctors and healthcare workers ensure attraction and retention of the best talent and high levels of motivation.

Partnering with him enabled me to partake in his mission and establish the world class Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre (MSCC) – a 1,400-bed facility at the Narayana Health City campus in Bangalore, which incorporates an affordable healthcare model based on based on amortizing the high capital cost of cutting edge infrastructure on economies of scale. Down staging cancer through early detection and diagnosis is the underlying approach to reducing therapy cost with improved outcome.

Compassionate yet pragmatic, Dr. Shetty knew when he embarked on his mission that almost none of his patients would be able to afford the high cost of open-heart surgery. His approach to transform healthcare in India was also based on the simple rule of economies of scale. He drives huge volumes of heart procedures thus reducing the cost of health care. In fact, Narayana Hospitals’ expansion plan envisions large hospitals across the country totalling 30,000 beds which will help it negotiate better prices from suppliers and bring down overall cost.

Today Narayana's team outperforms leading hospitals in the US in the number of cardiac surgeries. Dr. Shetty is able to offer cutting-edge medical care in India at a fraction of what it costs elsewhere in the world. As a visionary he plans to establish a health city that is large enough to cater to the nation’s demands in cardiac surgery.

His pioneering spirit has driven him to set up projects in other countries where he can implement his cost-effective healthcare model for global citizens. His hospitals leverage telemedicine – which is offered free of cost – to examine and assess patients in remote regions and across borders.

To support his vision, pharma and healthcare industries must facilitate the processes of making medical care affordable and accessible by encouraging cost-effective innovation in drug discovery and development.

Dr. Shetty’s process innovation, which sets his strategy apart, can serve as a model for countries worldwide that are struggling with soaring healthcare costs. If affordable quality healthcare appeared a quixotic dream a few years ago, Dr. Shetty has shown the way to making it a reality. Researchers and scholars across the globe today want to learn how he has done it. Until now, at least in theory, it was the government that served the poor. Dr. Shetty has demonstrated how private enterprise and public-private partnerships can achieve the seemingly impossible goal of profitably serving the poor.

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