With tremendous potential at its foot, Bengaluru-based Narayana Health, along with the healthcare industry in India, is poised for exponential growth and a key position in the global landscape, given that policymakers take note of the magnitude and significance of the industry, says Dr Devi Prasad Shetty.
As the Chairman and Executive Director of Narayana Health, Dr Shetty is of the strong belief that as technology takes over, the healthcare industry will be a front-runner in the space and a prominent enabler of this transformation.
In a candid interaction with DH, one of the leading cardiac surgeons, who hails from Bengaluru, speaks about the scope and opportunities for growth and innovation in the Indian healthcare space, and his venture Narayana Health's standing in that scenario.
The company recently hit the markets with an IPO, which was subscribed over eight times on its debut. Speaking about the decision to go for an IPO and its impact, Dr Shetty says, "The best thing for a company to happen is to go for an IPO, as it offers vast opportunity for growth. As a listed company, data becomes available in the public domain, thereby I'm in a much better position to impress on people that these are things that are important, and initiate transformation in the sector."
Sector as an employment generator
According to World Bank data, in the next 13 years, a shortage of over 80 million is estimated in the global healthcare workforce. Here, the healthcare industry far surpasses others in terms of revenues and employment generation capacity. More importantly, the industry employs a large pool of semi-skilled and unskilled labour (cleaners, support staff, ambulance drivers, etc.).
Dr Shetty explains, "In this context, it becomes pertinent for the government to realise that this industry, apart from taking care of healthcare and medical requirements, is a driver of the economy. And, the driver has to be an industry, which can generate extensive employment."
For an economy that depends extensively on the agricultural sector, it must be noted that the sector contributes to only 17% of the GDP, with about 57% of the population depending on it. Excess human resource may be absorbed by the manufacturing sector, but it goes without saying that the sector demands huge investment. And, the healthcare sector is open to absorbing this additional human resource given the right training and education. However, medical education in India appears to have become an elitist affair. Here, Dr Shetty calls for government policies that ease access to medical education. Narayana Health, which has a network of 23 hospitals and seven heart centres across India, and one hospital overseas in the Cayman Islands, are active training institutions for doctors, nurses, technicians and paramedical workforce.
Automation/digitisation in medicine
Automation, digitisation, robotics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, among more such jargons, are the order of the day. While the world has already seen its massive impact on inter-personal connectivity, retail, and manufacturing, what is its role in the healthcare sector?
With a doctor to patient ratio of 1:1,000, India hosts plenty opportunity for technology transformormation in the way healthcare is consumed. "I expect about 5-7 years to see the manifestation of this transformation," he says.
The next 'Yashasvini' in 1-2 years
About 13-14 years ago, Dr Shetty took the lead to convince the government to launch a paradigm shift in the healthcare insurance programme 'Yashasvini', wherein even with a premium of Rs 5, a heart operation could be enabled. Now, his team is working on a mobile phone-based micro health insurance programme, and is in talks with concerned departments of the government to launch it.
"We are hoping that the central government launches an insurance programme based on the mobile phone. If we have close to 950 million mobile phone subscribers, we spend Rs 150-200 per month on it. If we can spend Rs 30 per month, we can actually cover the surgical cost of 900 million people," he says, adding, "For a long time, we have been in discussions to bring about this policy. I hope that in the next 1-2 years, phone-based micro-health insurance will become a reality."
Expansion of network
As a hospital chain, Narayana Health boasts of a capacity of 5,900 operational beds across all its centres, and a potential to reach 6,800 beds. With a fairly large presence in Kolkata, the company wants to expand in East India, alongside Delhi and Mumbai.
Narayana Health had invested Rs 50 crore in SRCC Children's Hospital in Maharashtra recently, and plans to invest another Rs 8 crore over the next five years.
Globally, apart from its hospital in the Cayman Islands, and the company is also looking at setting up a hospital in the Caribbean, where tremendous opportunity has been estimated.
Even as the industry is currently in the midst of a tumultuous period, "reality will prevail. You can't wish away hospitals and doctors," he says. The country has been witnessing strikes in the light of protest against a bill, which seeks to replace the Medical Council of India with another body.
On a reaffirming note, Dr Shetty concludes, "This industry is going to drive the economy of the world. As far as IT goes, India was supportive and a back-end provider to the US, but in the case of healthcare, India will lead form the front, because here, manpower will dictate terms and there is potential for manpower growth here."