Eighty-two-year-old Prathap C Reddy is on a mission. Apollo Hospitals, the health care chain founded by Reddy, on Tuesday launched a telemedicine initiative called Sehat (Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine) at 60,000 government-run common service centres. Reddy, chairman of Apollo Hospitals, speaks to Ajay Modi on the new initiative and associated challenges. Edited excerpts: How did the idea of Sehat evolve? Our first experience with telemedicine started in 2000, when we connected my village Aragonda with our hospital. Now, we have 250-300 such centres. In Himachal Pradesh, we run 18 telemedicine centres, most of them located in areas where mobility is a challenge for at least half of the year. One such centre is at a height of 12,500 feet. We have been continuously delivering health care services through telemedicine. When the government came up with the idea of expanding it, we decided to take up the challenge. What are the challenges? Do we have sound network connectivity? The first thing you need is bandwidth connectivity. Every day you are reading about call drops. There must be permanent bandwidth. For now, the government has managed to give permanent connectivity to the 60,000 centres. These centres were offering consultation on fertiliser use, rainfall forecast, crops to be sown and other services. Now, we are adding telemedicine under Apollo to these centres. I hope it will expand to 600,000 villages. What role will Sehat perform? Sehat will give us an opportunity to advice people on how to look after themselves, what needs to be done to stay healthy, when to get checkups. We will advice them to avoid diabetic complications. People don’t have die to in the 40s due to heart attacks. If you recognise the threat and advise a person, you can postpone the death from 40 to 70 years. We will play a significant role in addressing the immediate problems, too, in cases like dengue that results in many deaths. The department of pharmaceuticals is making efforts to see that medicines are available at these centres. How will you ensure quality of advice and consultation is uniform? It is a challenge.
Today, a medicine can be administered uniformly in several cases. In some of the difficult cases, after two-three consultations, the doctor will have to tell the patient to visit a major hospital. It is not going to be universal in a sense that I cure everybody who faces the camera. Our teams are trained adequately. Does Sehat make business sense? It is not going to be money. If it is going to be money, I won’t be able to convince my doctor to do consultations for Rs 30. He must have the spirit of doing service for people in remote areas. Some may drop out. But we have done a unique thing for them. To address the boredom of sitting in front of TV camera, we call them three days a week to our critical care and emergency to enhance knowledge and get exposure. Apollo has this unique advantage, we can rotate them. Do you want to do this alone or do you welcome more players? More players should join. We will give the lead because we have the experience. It has been a year since you put in place a new management structure. How has it worked so far? It has placed greater responsibilities on the four (Reddy’s daughters). There will be a review meeting to ascertain their individual achievements. It has given me little more time to think. Not that I am no longer with Apollo. I am with Apollo and concentrating a little more on education, international business and executing a total health project for my village. If I don’t make my daily round at the hospital, I am not happy. What diseases can be covered? Almost all diseases can get advised. They can be diagnosed before they transform to a life threatening form. Cancer, if detected at the first stage, can be cured. Metabolic symptoms of heart disease can be diagnosed and lead to precautions. Diabetes is the easiest thing to detect. If one can be told what to eat and what not to, it makes a huge difference.