Apollo Hospitals, the country's largest healthcare chain, wants to add 10 hospitals a year for providing services to the population at the bottom of the pyramid. The aim is to reach out to a billion people in a decade. In an interview with Joe C Mathew, Apollo Hospitals Executive Chairman Prathap C Reddy says the challenge is not in the funding, but in finding the human resources. Excerpts:
Apollo is the first and only hospital in the country to have a stamp bearing its name. Have you achieved what you set out to do?
To provide an Indian the same level of care as a patient could get abroad — that was the vision with which I raised $50,000 (to start Apollo Hospitals in 1983). I wanted that void to be filled and I think I have done it. Today whatever we do is as good or better than the best hospitals in the world. Recently, hospitals like Mayo Clinic accepted that Apollo standards are as good as theirs and at a cost that is one-tenth of theirs.
But as a healthcare provider, do you feel you have given what the country expects from you?
We need to reach the bottom of the pyramid and for that we need to work hard. We can't do it the same way as we are doing now. What we need to do is to innovate and use technologies to get there. This is why we are doing the 'Touching a billion lives' programme where we are trying create hospitals through a 'Reach' model.
How does this model work?
How do you intend to finance the projects?
Apollo can raise funds. Second thing is to build, and there are builders who are ready to do it. The only challenge before us is: How do we raise the human resources for supporting such a project? We have plans to establish nursing and paramedical educational institutions in nearby locations to cater to the demands of such hospitals. We do that even now. We train 800-900 nurses and 1,500-2,000 paramedics every year. These numbers will double in the next three years, so that we can rapidly fill those gaps. If we are able to proceed in this manner, we will grow multiple-fold in the coming years. And that can happen only by innovation and technology.
Is the Reach programme focused more towards South India?
No, we are all over. We even wanted to have one in Srinagar.
What are the profitability trends in the healthcare industry? How do you plan to increase the profitability in your business?
When we look at the healthcare sector, what we need to ensure is growth. We are very happy to say we have been growing with reasonable profit margins all these years. It gives us enough resources to deploy for development. We will continue to grow slowly. From first to second and second to third hospitals, we have taken five to six years' time for each addition. But now we are adding hospitals every year. The current plan is to add 10 hospitals a year. So, we are growing. For me, the most important aspect is to continue to maintain patients' trust.
Is efficiency going to be the key for future growth?
See, what we have done is that we have decided to grow the "Apollo way", where we have further streamlined the time of stay for a patient in the hospital. That will increase efficiency and also avoid several additional expenses. Originally, our LoS (length of stay) was about 9.5 days. Last year, it was 5.6 and today our LoS is 4.7. Anything in the range of 4 should be reasonable for our country before people get sensitised.
Even now, there are 25 per cent of patients who are ready to go home but are not mentally prepared to go home. That is where we require sensitisation.