The key is to provide quality and affordable healthcare

Updated: Jan 28 2008, 06:12am hrs
Translated literally, Sankara Nethralaya means the temple of eyes. The 30-year-old super speciality ophthalmic institution has lived up to its grand name and become synonymous with quality and affordable eye care in the country. Its 1,500 healthcare personnel cater to nearly 1,500 patients daily, performing more than 100 surgeries. When Dr Sengamedu Srinivasa Badrinath founded it in Chennai 1978, it was for missionary purposes. The objectives included practising quality eye care, training and teaching, and pursuing research in ophthalmology. Today the institution is not only self-sustaining, but also flourishing. It has also become a case study for the bottom of the pyramid concept. Dr Badrinath, now chairman emeritus, talks to FEs Rajiv Tikoo about the hospital, state of the eye care in the country and his concept of quality and affordable healthcare. Excerpts from the interview:

How fit is our healthcare system

There is a rural-urban divide in the healthcare sector. Unfortunately, people in rural areas do seem to face difficulty in getting quality healthcare that is affordable. When they go to large corporate hospitals many a times, the expenses are so enormous that they have to sell their properties to seek treatment. I dont think it should be like that.

Do you mean to say that there should be free healthcare

Let us not be mistaken about it. Nothing comes without money. It costs money to provide quality healthcare. When you spend money, you need to get it back.

So, what is the way out

We should have a situation where we take care of people from the lower economic sections of the society as well as people who can afford to pay. It should be a sort of balancing act. The key is to provide quality and affordable healthcare.

How are you able to do it

We perform about 32,000 major surgeries every year. About 11,000 are conducted totally free of cost. Our only criterion is that their monthly income should fall within the limits that we have set. Then, irrespective of the total expenditure, the treatment is offered free.

What are your tariffs like

You see, I have been harping about a very important word affordable. The tariff in our institution is something that is affordable by the middle class. It does not leave much of a profit for us. We plough back whatever small amount we make. All our expansion is through community supported donations. I take pride in calling our institution by the society and for the society.

How come others like Aravind eye hospitals seem to have a better ratio in favour of poorer sections

You see, it would vary from place to place, institution to institution, and situation to situation. It also depends upon the demand in a particular area. In our case, 33% free surgeries seem to be a good and balanced ratio.

If you can do it, why are not others replicating your model

I wouldnt say that others are not replicating it. You will find similar examples in many parts of the countryfrom Delhi to Chennai, and Guwahati to Maharashtra. People are doing commendable work, but I agree its not a total sweep.

Will it be correct to say that yours is a good business model and can be followed by others

A business model depends upon what you seek as end results. If you are happy with the personal and professional satisfaction that our institution provides, its a good model for you. If you are looking for big monetary results, it may not be.

When you train people, what do you emphasise on

When people train with us and go back, we dont insist that they must work in a particular way. Rather we insist that they must provide quality medical care. As long as they are able to deliver it, its fine with us. Its up to them to decide whichever way to do it. They may want to do it through a charitable organisation, institutional hospital, corporate healthcare or private practice. They have the freedom to do what they want to do.

When is your new hospital in Kolkata coming up

The hospital in Kolkata is functioning now in a place that was gifted to us by a philanthropist. We will be moving into our own premises this year. The construction is on and the opening is likely to be in August.