Opinion and Analysis
How to get quality medicare at low costs
Posted Sunday, August 12 2012 at 17:54
Erlier this year I accompanied a close relative for treatment at a well-regarded hospital in Chennai, India, which is part of a chain of hospitals across Asia that provide low cost yet high quality medical services to local and international patients.
Apollo Hospitals was started in 1983 by its visionary chairman, Dr Prathap C Reddy, as a 150-bed hospital. Today, it is part of India’s success story as a major hub in global healthcare. The group has 5,888 owned and 2,388 managed beds across 36 owned and 14 managed hospitals across Asia.
My fascination with the group’s performance simply arose after bearing witness to fast, efficient service delivery at their Chennai hospital having spent many a night at local Kenyan hospitals waiting to be attended to and wondering if this is what my destiny as a human being awaiting medical attention was deigned to be.
I think we all know that nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes.
Though it is human nature to try and delay and in most parts avoid the two as much as possible, you can see why hospitals and tax consultancies are big business.
The accompanying table demonstrates the financial success that is the Apollo Hospitals business.
Healthy double digit EBITDA margin yields speak to good cost controls that do not destroy the quality of service and the remarkable cash positions provide good working capital buffers that keep the operations costs within control.
My experience demonstrates that it is possible to have good quality medical care at fairly reasonable costs.
Of course, it goes without saying that the Indian health sector benefits from sheer numbers which underpin the high volume low value business model.
I’ll give them that. But the efficiency of document and information movement has nothing to do with providing low cost medical care rather it’s a service delivery mechanism that ensures very little time is wasted by patients in seeking medical attention.
Here is an illustration: We had set up appointments with about five specialists at different times within 48 hours. At the International Patient Centre, the clerks opened a patient file with all the patient data.
A blue file was produced with a bar code on its cover.
We were never allowed to touch that file, but it mysteriously appeared at every appointment we went to because the hospital’s system showed where the next appointment would be.
At one appointment, the file did not appear (thank God for small inefficiencies) and the doctor’s receptionist just took the patient’s badge that had the bar code printed above the patient’s name.
She scanned the bar code and the system showed her exactly where the file was and it was retrieved and brought before we had even entered the doctor’s office.