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Dichotomy In The Pandemic
Dr. G S K Velu, Serial Healthcare Entrepreneur, Chairman & MD, Trivitron Group of Companies, Founder & Chairman, Maxivision Eyecare Hospitals, Founder and Director, Alliance Medicorp & Alliance Dental in conversation with Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld & exchange4media group about the Indian healthcare sector and India’s situation relating to Covid-19.
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Dr. G S K Velu feels that the pandemic fear is continuing and also that Indian healthcare is a dichotomy and only the top 20 cities have healthcare facilities to tackle this deadly pandemic.
Dr. G S K Velu, Serial Healthcare Entrepreneur, Chairman & MD, Trivitron Group of Companies, Founder & Chairman, Maxivision Eyecare Hospitals, Founder and Director, Alliance Medicorp Ltd. & Alliance Dental Ltd in conversation with Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld & exchange4media group about the Indian healthcare sector and India’s situation relating to Covid-19.
Q. How have the last 120 to 140 days been for you personally and professionally?
A. None of us had anticipated that something like this would happen in our lives. Both the personal and professional journeys have been very unique. I don’t think we will get such an experience ever again in our lives as everyday goes like a roller coaster ride. On the personal side, for all of us I think one possible thing is that we all started learning how to remain in one place and spend time with the family. In the past, for almost 30 years I have been traveling more than 20 days minimum in a month. Now for the past 4 months I haven’t travelled anywhere and am sitting at home working on it as this is my office now. On a professional journey being in healthcare, we have been busier than ever. 24X7 running factories, our diagnostics, setting up more than 10 laboratories across the country or dealing with situations which weren’t easy at all. As a healthcare entrepreneur I am seeing a lot of traction. This is the first time I think that we came to know doctors are very important in our lives. For the first time I think they are being considered more important than Bollywood stars. To some extent we are realizing the value of healthcare in this pandemic, and that makes us feel that healthcare is also getting the kind of attention it deserves. That is the only positive thing except that the fear still continues, though it is slowly subsiding, fear lies in the general public. To run a company itself is a very differential strategy. There are people who have to go to the location to serve, like our factory workers, our scientists, could be even doctors, our technicians who have to go to the location to work and there are the sales and marketing people, finance people, they cannot work from home. So how do we balance these two? It is a bit difficult to really tell people that there is a part of our team who has to go to the office, and others who are paid also are sitting at home and working. We had to console them, how to define that each one has a role to play and I am very happy to say that everyone realized that.
Q. If we had to estimate the loss of healthcare revenue in 2 sectors broadly – 1. Big hospital chains and healthcare set-ups and 2. Is what I call the neighborhood clinics which are aplenty. What is the scale of loss of revenues than these temples of service (I won’t call them clinics) would have lost? Would it be close to 15,000 crores?
A. The estimate is currently that it is at that level easily already because there is a fear of going to hospitals. The only reason people would like to go to the hospital is that they are Covid positive and they need to get treatment. Otherwise all the people you talk to, even NCDs are being ignored. Non-communicable diseases which need immediate attention like diabetes, cancer, cardiology, renal care – all these are being ignored to a large extent. There is a general fear in going to the hospital as there are more chances of affecting yourself with Covid-19. These kinds of feelings are there so I think the time has come, maybe as the Independence Day is coming – that is the time when we are going to ignore Corona fear. I think the real fear we are getting out of Corona has to go away. Only then the health indices of the country will go down. Today I feel that the fear is stopping people from coming so most of the conventional businesses for example, eyecare hospitals, dental issues, these businesses which are related, almost nothing is being seen. 20 or 30% of the original businesses are being seen. When it comes to diagnostics, if one sees most of the diagnostic companies, Covid testing is what is making us survive to some extent. We have multiple factories where the Covid supplies come from is what is getting us going. Otherwise the conventional businesses are not. It is contrary to the belief that the healthcare industry is doing well. Today 70% of healthcare procedures are done by private enterprises. Whether it is a small nursing home or a huge hospital, all of them are going through a difficult period. The biggest issue in this is that healthcare if not number 1, number 2 employer in this country. The number of people getting employed in the healthcare industry is in millions.
Q. People are afraid to go to hospitals, so tell us what is the future of healthcare or what is the future of elder care because as the aging population grows plus all the people are hesitant because one may come in contact with others, healthcare at home is poised to grow. It was growing even before Covid but post Covid, how do you think the sub-sector of healthcare at home will grow?
A. I think when you look at it carefully, there are clearly 2 aspects of healthcare – one is illness, and the other is wellness. For the illness one has to go to hospitals to get cured or see a specialist, but in wellness mostly can be delivered at home or in standalone diagnostic centres. Basically, there one is not dealing with illness. If one wants to go to get an x-ray done or ECG done etc. it is better to go to a medical diagnostic centre and get the blood test done instead of going to the hospital. There is a distinction what the hospital should do, and what these independent wellness centres should do. Third comes the most important aspect which is the home health. Home health is an aspect picking up all over the world and when it comes to diagnostics and also management of chronic disorders, home health will play a very important role. Today most of the people prefer that blood testing be done at home and now we are offering even ECGs at home. X-rays too can be done at home. This will increase but how affordable it becomes and what are the things that one can do at home depends on the infrastructure and affordability of different sets of population.
Q. We have the Indian tradition of Ayurveda. We talk of natural healing, holistic healing, please tell us how India can be a leader in natural medicine, holistic healing and Ayurveda, yoga etc. How do we make sure they become the narrative in the world?
A. I think yoga, there is no bigger component of yoga as it has not only made an impact in India but globally. I am a big follower of yoga as well. I practice it and I see a big difference. The way it improves your mental and physical health is great. I think our ancestors lived with all this. Probably the only thing is that nowadays we are getting it documented. Earlier we didn’t document in a proper fashion. Once we do documentation and we start doing clinical trials, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Siddha, all these kinds of alternatives have a big role to play. Particularly I feel every person is following our grandmother’s medicines. The immunity boosters and all they spoke about we never listened to in the past. Today when our grandmother says do it, we do it. There is a lot in our Indian medicine. One has to document it, start believing it but one can’t say that one is better than the other. It complements each other. For certain things allopathy is good. For certain things Ayurveda or homeopathy is good. To some extent, as you said we have ignored some of these recipes which we have had for thousands of years. We ignored it because we didn’t believe in it as much as we should have believed in it.