Let’s talk health

Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy, Founder and Chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group was in Muscat recently for an event. He speaks to Mayank Singh about his vision, preventive healthcare and the group’s future plans.

Apollo Hospitals has been a pioneer in private healthcare in India, and has established an international footprint with the Apollo Medical Centre in Oman. What is Apollo’s differentiation in the market?

Medicine is a very difficult field as diseases do not adhere to a schedule and doctors have to work 24/7 and this is something that Apollo Hospitals has brought to medicine. I was pleased to see the Emergency ward in Muscat, because that is where patients with minor to major ailments come in and we learn how to handle it and give them the best outcome. At Apollo we described the word Emergency in India for the first time, as before that it was called casualty. Initially the authorities asked us to put up a casualty board next to Emergency, as they said that people do not understand it, but I am glad that we have made it meaningful and something that people understand. This is a source of joy.

We are now working seriously on preventive care. For example, we have opened a Sugar Clinic in Muscat and people who become members of the Sugar Clinic, automatically undergo all the tests. They are screened not just for blood sugar, but also for the eye as diabetes affects the eye. We can do wonders by checking the patients ophthalmological changes. Secondly, around 20 per cent of the people are in the pre-diabetics stage and we can check their diabetes. Checking and regulating diabetes can reduce the incidence of heart diseases. Amongst Asians we see heart attacks happening among people in their 30s and 40s and its incidence has gone up by four times, contrary to the Caucasian (Western) race, where heart attacks usually take place between the ages of 60 to 80 years. Through the Sugar Clinic we can bring this down significantly by controlling a person’s diabetes and giving him tips on remaining healthy. We have something called three personal do’s and three personal don’ts. By following these a patient can enjoy his life in a good working condition.

I am very happy that Apollo Muscat has opened the first internationally recognised Sugar Clinic. We branded them as Sugar Clinics to make them more patient-friendly. If we had called them diabetes centre people would think about them as a disease, but by branding them as Sugar Clinics we have made it more patient friendly. This is very important in this region as Arabs are more prone to diabetes. The Sugar Clinic also has a telemedicine room, which enables a doctor to speak to his specialist colleagues in India and vice versa. This is going to change the way telemedicine is practiced in India. In Andhra Pradesh (India), Apollo has introduced 110 telemedicine centres where we charge a small sum of INR30 for primary consultations. Government of India has given us the equipment, but the knowhow, distribution, connectivity etc are done by Apollo. We are today in a position to deliver the best quality care available anywhere in the world and that too at 10 per cent or lesser cost than anywhere in the world. We need inclusiveness to reach people and information technology is going to make that difference. The year 2014 is the 30th year of operations for Apollo and it is going to be a milestone in our ongoing journey. Over these years we have become the world’s No 1 in renal, heart treatment and liver transplant.

What are the major health challenges that the Apollo Group is bracing itself up for in future?

We are now brainstorming about meeting the challenges of the 21st century. What we did was good enough for the last century as we brought the best international quality treatment to heart surgery, renal transplants and the way we handled emergencies related to the knee, hip or spine. Non communicable diseases or NCDs pose the biggest challenge of the 21st century. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the world will spend $30trn by 2030 to handle NCDs, out of which India will spend $8.5trn. Leaving aside the money, one needs to factorise the human cost in terms of deaths and disability. Our vision is to see as to how we can make a difference in treating NCDs.

For example, one of our main goals is to make India diabetes free. We are working on seeing that no one in their 30s gets a heart attack, and even when they get an attack in their 60s and 70s, they still do not die. We evaluating all the cardiac parameters and one day Apollo in Muscat will have the entire cardiac package. The survival of cancer patients amongst speciality hospitals in India is 35 per cent, this is because we are getting patients in stage three and stage four. At this stage they need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation etc and despite the huge expense that they incur they are still unsure whether they will survive or not.

Our focus is to see as to how we can screen people for cancer. Previously patients used to complain that they have to go to Johns Hopkins Medicine, Mayo Clinic etc to have a major check up but now in seven major hospitals in India we offer the same facilities as a Platinum Health Check up. This will soon be available in Oman. The package gives patients a total bundle of care – it takes over four hours after which doctors analyse the results and tell the person about his condition and if there is anything that needs to be attended to, so that he or she can lead a normal life.

The Platinum check up is not very expensive as it costs only around INR70,000 (RO450). It is a once in a lifetime check up, followed by regular checkups. Once they undergo this check up they are connected with us for a lifetime through our IT system. Our whole focus is on seeing as to how we can avoid this huge NCD pandemic.

With regards to the threat of infections, on the World Neighbourhood Day in 2013, we went to the houses of all senior citizens who lived in the vicinity of our hospitals and talked to them about immunisation. Almost 90 per cent of them took immunisation, and it was not expensive. We brought the medicine in bulk for INR600 (RO3.85) and charged them INR750 (RO4.82), so everybody was happy to get an immunisation shot. Whatever we are doing in India we will replicate it in Oman and we will learn from what they do here.

Medicine is not a one-shoe-fits all business, you must have personalised medicine, and that is what Apollo is specialising in now. We are advising all insurance companies to allow holders to have an annualised health check up, because as a result of this check up, 99 per cent of the diseases that would have affected and forced them to go in for a major surgery or treatment can be avoided.

You have been a proponent of ‘Let’s Talk Health’ and preventive healthcare. Is this helping in spreading awareness about good health?

If you see our annual report this year, the heading says ‘Stay Healthy.’ Most of our shareholders are from abroad, and they want to see something fancy, but this year we did something that was simple and everybody liked it. We need PPPP — private, public, people participation and I am sure that this will happen. My first day’s vision at Apollo was that we are global citizens and are entitled to the same level of care that is available anywhere in the world, and that has been achieved. In addition to this, we also give them care, compassion, commitment and this is not something that you can buy with money.

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