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Special Columns
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
K.K.Srivastava Guest Column
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The story of some socially relevant medical institutions, passionately engaged in offering holistic, world class and affordable healthcare infrastructure is doing the rounds now – but so is the skepticism around their social models!
Like social work, healthcare has often been described as a mission, not a trade. However, when one looks around, horror stories abound! Ironically, the most disturbing aspect of India’s development over the past two [post liberalization] decades has been the rise in inequality in all indicators of development and well-being – the pathetic state of health and nutrition being a prime example! Tragically, while the ‘corporate’ private sector in healthcare has boomed and India is being touted and sold successfully as a hot “medical tourism destination,” the access of the common man to basic healthcare facilities has become increasingly more difficult. Further, the trials and tribulations of hassled patients, along with their endless stories of wrong diagnosis, zillion tests and eye-popping bills hardly warrants repetition. In this dismal space, there are some glimmers of hope, of entrepreneurs who have set up healthcare facilities to reach those who have, till date, been deemed unreachable – the havenots!

A number of such initiatives have been started in India. Aravind Eye Care Centre is one of the most well known, made popular particularly by its prominent mention in the book on Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by late Prof. C. K. Prahalad.

Of the next lot, Shramjeevi Hospital in Kolkata is a more recent example and one that has started earning its place in the sun. The hospital was also covered in our sister magazine The Sunday Indian. Shramjeevi was set up by former workers of the sick Indo-Japan Steel Company. It all started when these workers set up a free weekly medical check up for the poor. The exercise was an attempt to repay in kind the people, who had earlier helped them through the cycle of closure and reopening of the steel plant. With an initial capital of just Rs.40,000, they made beds, operation tables, trolleys, et al, using steel scrap. They used automobile headlights as OT lights and kept them lit with AC/DC and battery systems. In every aspect of their operations, the concept of frugality took up a whole new meaning. The hospital is based completely on donations, yet still focused exclusively on the underprivileged. The hospital provides heart care surgeries at just Rs.25,000, compared to Rs.1,00,000 at most other hospitals.

On the religious front, the Sathya Sai hospitals in South India (Puttapurthi, Whitefield, Bangalore) also offer highly subsidised yet world class healthcare services to all the needy. This hospital again is run by donations, which rich and devout donors willingly provide. “Despite the social aspect, the hospital has managed to rope in foreign and Indian doctors who voluntarily provide their services free of cost,” says A. Sundari, a hospital volunteer.

In this trend, the most recent one to enter the field is Medica Synergie, which is also perhaps the most (or rather, the only) professionally marketed brand in the social healthcare segment. Medica positions its brand on the twin attributes of accessibility and affordability. “It came into being because of a desperate need in Eastern India for an integrated, professionally managed healthcare company; also because this region is lagging way behind,” says Dr. Alok Roy, ex-COO, Fortis Healthcare Ltd. and now Chairman and MD, Medica Synergie.

Medica Synergie has launched what it calls Operation Buddha, an exercise covering 30 thousand families (approximately 100,000 people) in the vicinity. The centre provides each of them with a card and these people can then visit the healthcare centre for consulting on any of their health problems for a nominal charge of Rs.5. Where follow up action is required for treatment, like an operation, it is at cost price – without any profit. The management is aiming to become one of the leading players in eastern India and to set up 10-12 hospitals. The management believes their core competence lies in being “Integrated Healthcare Providers”. They are into health delivery [hospitals – building, managing, running] public health, pharma retail as well as health architecture – a total, integrated healthcare centre. Medica is attempting to set itself apart on multiple parameters other than price and best in class healthcare professionals. The interiors have been developed by Sunita Alexander, and offer a warm, feel-good, cheerful, odourless, eco and environmentally friendly ambience! They have carefully chosen friendly attendants to guide and help patients and visitors 24x7 in every possible manner. Care has been taken to institutionalise ultra transparent billing procedures and availability of complete information to customers. They also provide flexibility to customers on paying their bills through EMIs; the tested route that revolutionised sectors like automobiles, real estate, consumer electronics & tourism in India.

Dr. Roy tells us that he is a firm believer of ‘Employee Empowerment’ in thought, word and deed. “To us, it’s not fashionable tokenism or a slogan that is politically correct in the corporate sense of the word, but remains the core driver of Medica.” He remains convinced that employees are the public face of social healthcare and their empowerment – via guidance, inspiration, motivation, self-belief – has to be a given for effective results, be it image, productivity or even profitability – like Yunus’ Grameen Bank.

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