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The doc who revolutionised medicare
It was 1980. Dr P C Reddy (PCR) invited a handful of economic journalists, including me, and outlined his plan of setting up a corporate hospital.

At that time he was known as a renowned cardiologist who worked with H M Hospital and earlier in the US. He had returned to India with a burning ambition to provide state-of-the-art medical care as obtained in the US. That was the time when famous cardiologists like Denton Cooley had perfected the technique for open-heart surgeries with almost 100 per cent success. Much earlier, Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first human heart transplant in 1967. Highly qualified specialists from Andhra – doctors, academics, engineers and computer scientists …  have thronged the US and by dint of hard work had earned both reputation and money. PCR was confident of drawing on their resources for launching his dream project in India.

Dr. Reddy explained the hostile response to his proposal from Charan Singh, who was the Prime Minister for a few months in 1979. Singh was furious over the proposal; he chided PCR for trying profit on the misery of sick men and women and reportedly tore off the papers.  But then as Shakespeare wrote, “there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Indira Gandhi, who returned to power in 1980, was deeply impressed with PCR’s dream. The astute businessman that he is, PCR capitalised on it especially with his easy access to the corridors of power.

The progress had a hitch: with the school adjacent to the property opposed the construction. PCR overcame the obstacles and launched the hospital in 1983.  The funding was facile. Moneys came from crore from prosperous doctors and other friends in the US as equity, there was a term loan from the Swiss Banking Corporation and the balance was raised through a public issue. The first corporate hospital with sophisticated facilities started operations in quick time.

Dr. Reddy was a man of innovations. He encountered the problem of utilising the sophisticated equipment installed. This had to be done quick as they were becoming fast obsolete. He introduced a scheme by which one could register with just Rs 150 a year and make use of the diagnostic facilities at 10 per cent of the cost. This helped large number of the surging middle class to acclimatise with preventive healthcare. The master health check-up with a detailed rigour of tests spread through a day also became immensely popular in quick time. The shrewd businessman withdrew the Rs 150 offer once the load on his equipments improved!

Chief among PCR ‘s  innovations include the platform he provided for specialists and super specialists in the developed countries to return to India affording them comparable tools, equipment and facilities and creature comforts and attractive salaries and perks. Hundreds of doctors who accumulated expertise and reputation for high quality work returned to India. The brain drain had a more visible impact of getting reversed by Apollo.  He commanded loyalty from experts who have remained with him all through like the renowned nephrologist K M Mani; the famous cardiologist credited with over 30,000 heart surgeries M R Girinath, the father of microsurgery, Dr K Venkataswami and scores of others.

The expansion was spectacular. The franchise for Apollo clinics and Apollo pharmacies helped PCR register quantum growth in quick time. The demand from the surging middle class and the rich for high quality dental care, pediatrics, skin and cosmetic care are turning these activities into money-spinners.  Dr. Reddy has also made great contribution to the concept of health insurance. With Andhra and Tamil Nadu focusing on offering medical insurance for the masses, there is a huge increase in the demand for quality healthcare from such large enterprises like Apollo.

The original motivation for PCR was to offer high quality cardiac care within the country and at modest cost. Thousands of heart surgeries are today performed within the country to near total success and offered at a fraction of the cost.  I would like to suggest PCR to work on a few more customer-friendly concepts:

•    Standardisation of procedures for surgery and treatment. Sadly, this is lacking. For the same symptoms and diagnosis, there are vast variations in treatment and procedures.

•    Lots of wastage are incurred in tests and diagnostic procedures. The test report of one leading hospital is not accepted by another, leading to duplication of high costs. PCR should take the lead to introduce by consent a system of accreditation that would help designated hospitals accepting the test reports of one another.

•    Costs of surgeries and medical care have ballooned. There should be relentless efforts to contain these. The facile explanation of medical costs in India being a fraction of those in the US or they have remained constant in dollar terms have little comfort: the income levels are not comparable and the rupee has depreciated from around Rs 12 per dollar in 1983 to Rs 62 today.

•    PCR should focus on health insurance costs that could be afforded by much larger numbers.

After all, Dr. Reddy has pioneered so many concepts in health care. He should do more. As one who has helped in increasing the longevity of Indians, he is still young at 80 and can do this over the next couple of decades.  

Dr. Reddy regards his wife Sucharitha as his closest friend. It is also remarkable that this intensely religious man involves his daughters big time in the hospital though none of them are doctors.

 

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