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  • Experienced Western healthcare professionals have little knowledge of WeDoctor a Chinese internet healthcare start-up positioned to have a significant impact on global healthcare systems over the next decade
  • Founded in 2010 and backed by Tencent, a US$0.5trn Chinese conglomerate, WeDoctor has grown rapidly to become an influential US$6bn enterprise
  • WeDoctor bundles services AI and big data strategies into smart devices to help unclog China’s fragmented and complex healthcare system and increases citizens’ access to affordable quality healthcare
  • WeDoctor has expanded its franchise outside of China and has global ambitions to become the “Amazon of healthcare
  • Is WeDoctor an exemplar for Western healthcare providers?
 
WeDoctor’s impact on global healthcare

The speed and scoop of technological change is forcing traditional healthcare providers to move beyond the comfort of their production models, embrace services and develop smart devices, which support customer-centric, value-based, data driven strategies. To illustrate this shift, we describe a Chinese internet healthcare start-up WeDoctor, which is having an impact on re-engineering China’s overly bureaucratic, fragmented and complex healthcare system and is positioned to influence the delivery of value-based healthcare services globally in the next decade.
 
In this Commentary

This Commentary describes WeDoctor and some of its recent activities to expand its influence and market share. Three things of note:

  • The partnerships that WeDoctor has developed with payers and providers, which are different to conventional transaction-based contracts
  • WeDoctor’s pragmatic approach to evolving technologies, which differentiates it from Western technology companies entering healthcare markets
  • WeDoctor might be considered as an exemplar and its strategy copied by Western companies. Because most giant Western technology companies are banned in China, local firms have stopped copying Western counterparts and innovate. This has resulted in many Chinese apps and services being better than their Western rivals. For example, Huawei’s mobiles outperform Apple’s, and China is ahead on 5G, mobile money and artificial intelligence. In 2016 the US technology publication Wired ran a cover story entitled: “It’s Time to Copy China”.
Smart Clinics

Imagine going to your primary care physician and, within a 15-minute consultation, receiving up to eleven tests, which include analysing your blood and urine, taking your blood pressure and measuring the electrical activity of your heart; and all the tests being delivered by a small portable all-in-one diagnostic device weighing just 5 kilos (11Ibs) and situated on the table of your doctor’s consulting room.

Imagine further that your test results are returned in minutes rather than days or even weeks and uploaded to your cloud-based electronic medical record to be reviewed in real time by your doctor. Simultaneously, your data are anonymously merged with similar information collected from millions of other patients and stored in a cloud file embedded with AI, in the forms of machine learning and cognitive computing, which complement and enhance the capabilities of your doctor. Your physician plays a key role in interpreting your test results and providing you with a diagnosis and treatment options as well as giving you an essential human touch of reassurance and guidance. Notwithstanding, as soon as you leave your doctor’s office, your mobile phone will suggest smart ways to monitor and manage your condition remotely. Information about your condition will appear on your social media feeds, you will also receive prompts for treatments, alerts about health supplements and suggestions about appropriate insurance policies. Currently, no amount of money can buy such a service in advanced wealthy Western economies, but it is a lead device of WeDoctor, which is available in rural China and in other emerging countries. According to Frost and Sullivana consultancy, the China market alone for remote diagnostics is currently estimated to be US$2bn and projected to grow to US$28bn in 10 years. WeDoctor’s  near-term goal is to capture a significant share of this market and help re-engineer China’s healthcare system by nudging individuals with the right piece of information at the time to maintain their health. This makes the device valuable to patients, healthcare providers and payers.

 
Reverse innovation
 
It seems reasonable to assume that, in addition to being useful in China and other emerging countries, WeDoctor’s all-in-one diagnostic device is well positioned to help enhance primary care practice in developed Western nations by a process of ‘reverse innovation’. This refers to a strategy where a product offering, which is specifically developed for emerging countries is subsequently successfully marketed in developed wealthy nations. It is particularly relevant to healthcare systems, which are universally challenged to deliver high quality outcomes with increasingly scarce resources. The strategy was formalized in a paper entitled, ‘How GE is Disrupting Itself’, which was published in the October 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), and subsequently expanded into a book published in 2018 entitled, ‘Reverse Innovation in Healthcare: How to make value-based delivery work’.
 
In the early 2000s, General Electric (GE) took an affordable, high quality portable ultrasound device, which it had developed for the Chinese market and successfully marketed it in the US and elsewhere. GE found that ‘affordability’ and ‘portability’ were universally valued healthcare factors. Jeffrey Immelt, then chairman and CEO of GE and one of the authors of the 2009 HBR paper, challenged other multinationals, “to see innovation opportunities in emerging markets in a new light. Reverse innovation was more widespread than Immelt first thought and over the past decade the strategy has become a significant part in the armoury of many multinational corporations. Although the strategy is relevant for value-based healthcare,it is rarely practiced by Western healthcare providers.
 
The starting point for reverse innovation healthcare strategies is emerging markets where the rapid growth in the demand for quality healthcare outstrips the development of resources and infrastructure. This creates significant opportunities for Western companies with smart solutions to common healthcare challenges. Similar to GE’s portable ultrasound device, WeDoctor’s smart all-in-one diagnostic device, in time, could be marketed in developed regions of the world where healthcare systems are struggling to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs.
 
WeDoctor’s pragmatism

WeDoctor, founded by Liao Jieyuan an AI specialist, is backed by Tencentwhich is one of the world’s largest technology and internet companies with a market cap of US$0.5trn and a mission to enhance the quality of life through the development and global distribution of emerging technologies. WeDoctor has a market cap of US$6bn, an established network in China of some 240,000 doctors, 2,700 large premier hospitals, over 15,000 pharmacies in 30 of China’s 34 provinces and about 160m platform users and joins a growing contingent of technology companies with a mission to change the healthcare industry, which to-date has resisted online disruption.
 
Notwithstanding, there is a significant difference between giant Western technology companies who have entered healthcare markets and WeDoctor. While the former have tended to invest heavily in aspirational projects such as unravelling the medical mysteries of anti-ageing, and AI systems to replace clinicians, WeDoctor has been more pragmatic and focused on making money by unclogging bottlenecks in the Chinese US$1trn healthcare market. Although Liao is an AI expert and WeDoctor is a significant user of AI, Liao believes, “AI won’t replace doctors, but will become an important tool for doctors to help improve their efficiency and accuracy”. WeDoctor has a practical mission: to enhance access to quality medical resources, improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. Indeed, Liao founded WeDoctor simply to help people book physician appointments, which is challenging in China. Chinese primary care practices are underused due to the poor distribution of resources, a lack of reputable practitioners and the nation’s relatively low number of doctors per capita. Further, waiting times to see a hospital specialist are long and patients reportedly have to pay significant amounts of money to middlemen to secure appointments.
 
AI healthcare systems are more challenged in the West than in China
 
In 2017, the Chinese central government released a plan to become the world leader in AI by 2030, aiming to surpass its rivals technologically and build a domestic industry worth almost $150 bn. WeDoctor and other Chinese healthcare providers are mindful that AI is a transformative technology for healthcare partly because of its ability to recognise patterns in vast amounts of data and to detect and quantify biomarkers in non-solid biological materials. Jamie Susskind, in his book Future Politicspublished in 2018, suggests that doctors consulting both medical and legal big data banks in support of diagnoses and treatments, will become as commonplace as  consulting standard images such as MRIs or X-rays. And if such data banks are not consulted it will be considered negligent.  
 
WeDoctor’s AI systems hold out the prospect of delivering rapid diagnoses, efficient triage, enhanced monitoring of diseases, improvements in personalized care and making medicine safer. Notwithstanding, a limiting factor in the use of AI systems in healthcare generally is neither investment nor the technology, but the ability to amass vast amounts of reliable personal and genomic data. This is a bigger challenge in the West than in China. More robust privacy legislation, higher levels of security and broader-based ethical concerns in the West are substantial obstacles. A significant advantage of WeDoctor is the freedom in China to collect, store, analyse and use patient, personal and genomic data on an unparalleled scale. China has yet to establish laws to protect such personal information and is systematically building health profiles on its 1.4bn citizens, which, together with Beijing’s commitment to AI, will provide scientists in China a significant advantage to lead and dominate life sciences over the next decade.
WeDoctor is one of several similar start-ups
 
WeDoctor is just one of several recent Chinese online start-ups employing evolving technologies to improve China’s healthcare system. Another is Good Doctor, which is an offshoot of the Ping An Insurance Group, a financial giant with a US$181bn market cap, annual revenues of US$142b and 343,000 employees. Both start-ups compete to build smart clinics in rural China.
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WeDoctor endeavours to extend its franchise

In addition to its smart diagnostic device, WeDoctor has leveraged Tencent’s substantial expertise and resources in mobile, AI and cloud-based technology to develop a significant customer-focused retail prowess and is rapidly developing a range of services for healthcare providers and manufacturers of medical devices. This positions the company well to have a significant near-term impact on Asia’s healthcare systems. In 2018 alone, WeDoctor has strengthened and extended its franchise by entering into a number of partnerships with a range of healthcare stakeholders, which include insurance companies, specialist in the procurement and distribution of medical devises and also investment companies interested in improving the physical infrastructure of southeast Asian healthcare systems. We describe some of these partnerships, which enable WeDoctor to consolidate and expand its market position both in China and internationally and suggest that Western healthcare providers should be considering similar partnerships to help them make the product to service shift.
 
WeDoctor and the AIA insurance group

In May 2018, WeDoctor formed a strategic alliance with the AIA Group, which is the largest public listed pan-Asian life insurance group with customers in China and across the Asia-Pacific region. WeDoctor and AIA are aligned in their ambition to partner with consumers in China and across southeast Asia to provide innovative quality healthcare and wellness offerings and financial protection solutions. The partnership provides WeDoctor with preferred access to AIA’s customer base and thereby strengthens and enlarges its networks and strategies to deliver affordable, digitally-enabled personalised healthcare offerings. AIA becomes WeDoctor’s preferred provider of life and health insurance solutions and gains access to its 160m registered users. According to Liao the partnership, “leverages AIA’s long history and extensive operations across the Asia-Pacific region . . . and is crucial to meeting the diversified life and health insurance requirements of our growing user base as we look to anticipate users’ needs, through our platform’s expanding functionality and our mission to transform healthcare through technology. This partnership not only helps us to cement our position as the premier technology-enabled healthcare solutions platform in China but also supports us as we expand our international presence in the years to come”.  
 
WeDoctor and China’s IVF market

Also, in May 2018, WeDoctor made a strategic investment in Reproductive Healthcare,a new in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) group, which was formed by a merger between two of Hong Kong’s largest and most reputable IVF practices. This was WeDoctor’s first investment outside of Mainland China and represents a significant milestone for the implementation of its international strategy. The new company provides a comprehensive range of IVF services, which include intra-uterine insemination, frozen-thawed embryo transfer and egg freezing services for China and the Asian region. The new company’s established frozen embryo services benefit from findings of a paper published in the January 2018 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggest that pregnancy and live birth rates are similar among women who use fresh or frozen embryos.
 
WeDoctor and its expanded international IVF market
 
In August 2018 WeDoctor, entered into an agreement with the Mason Group and Aldworth Management to acquire an 89.9% stake in Genea, Australia's leading provider of integrated advanced assisted reproductive technology (ART) services. Headquartered in Sydney, Genea has over 400 employees and is a leading international fertility group with a 30-year track record and a significant presence in New Zealand and Thailand as well as Australia. The company offers a comprehensive range of ART services, including IVF, egg and embryo freezing, genetic testing, sperm banking, day surgeries and pathology. Genea has developed proprietary technologies, including culture media and embryo transfer catheters, which are used in more than 600 clinics across 60 countries and is the only ART platform, with both services and technology, in the industry worldwide. The agreement strengthens both WeDoctor’s international strategy and its ability to increase its share of China’s US$2bn and fast-growing IVF market. WeDoctor also is targeting a bigger share of the outbound Chinese IVF medical tourism market, which in 2017, grew approximately 40% year-over-year to approximately US$151m. According to Grand View Research, the global IVF market in 2017 was valued at about US$15bn and is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 10%.
 
WeDoctor is China's first smart medical supply chain solutions and procurement company
 
In July 2018, WeDoctor entered into a joint venture (JV) with IDS Medical Systems Group (idsMED Group), to form idsMED WeDoctor China Ltd. This is China's first smart medical supply chain solutions and procurement company and is positioned to transform China’s fragmented, multi-layered and relationship-driven medical device distribution systems.
 
idsMED is a leading Asian medical supply chain solutions company specialising in the distribution of medical devices and consumables, clinical education and hospital design and planning. It represents over 200 global MedTech companies and has extensive Asia Pacific distribution networks with access to over 10,000 healthcare institutions. The company has 1,600 employees, including 700 experienced field sales, product and clinical specialists and 300 professional bio-medical engineers providing installation and maintenance services.
 
The JV, owned 51% by WeDoctor and 49% by idsMED Group leverages the respective companies’ strengths, innovative resources and networks to procure medical devices and services centrally by connecting global manufacturers directly to China’s hospitals and healthcare providers. The JV will further enhance WeDoctor’s value proposition by managing and optimizing China’s entire medical supply chain, which until now has been fragmented, overly bureaucratic and complicated. In addition, idsMED WeDoctor will set up medical education and training academies throughout China to deliver and promote medical devices and clinical education as well as accredited medical training courses for doctors and nurses.
 
WeDoctor & Fullerton
 
In September 2018 WeDoctor entered into a strategic partnership with Fullerton Health a Singapore-headquartered healthcare service provider. The alliance is, “In line with WeDoctor’s international growth strategy and will extend our reach and facilitate our development in Asia,” said Jeff Chen, WeDoctor’s Chief Strategy Officer. The JV provides WeDoctor access to Fullerton Health’s 500 healthcare facilities and its network of over 8,000 healthcare providers across eight Asian pacific markets. Fullerton Health benefits from WeDoctor’s footprint in China and broadens its patients’ access to online healthcare consultations. In the near term, both companies aim to broaden their reach in the corporate healthcare service market by opening onsite medical centres for businesses across China. In addition, the partnership plans to create about 100 primary care and specialist outpatient facilities.
 
Takeaways

Healthcare has become digital and global and long ago, the geo-political axis of the world has moved East. To remain competitive, Western healthcare providers must increase their knowledge and understanding of initiatives in China and southeast Asia, be prepared to transform their strategies and business models and engage in partnerships with a range of healthcare stakeholders, complementary enterprises and start-ups in emerging nations.
 
Two of China’s largest healthcare challenges are the uneven distribution of its services and its vast and escalating costs. The nation has an underserved primary care sector and the most qualified and experienced doctors are concentrated in a few premier mega-city hospitals, which account for 8% of the total number of medical centres but handle 50% of the nation’s outpatient visits. These challenges are not unique to China but experienced by healthcare systems throughout the world.

WeDoctor is an exemplar of how such universal healthcare challenges might be improved by a combination of evolving smart technologies and strategic partnerships with a range of healthcare stakeholders. As MedTech companies continue to transform their business models to increase customer-centricity, the types of partners they need to engage will only expand. In a rapidly moving market, keeping abreast of these potential collaborators is critical.

Another takeaway is that WeDoctor does not use AI and big data technologies to resolve the mysteries of medicine, but to increase access to healthcare, improve diagnoses, enhance patient outcomes and lower costs. The company also is increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare providers by simplifying and centralizing procurement processes of medical devices and pharmaceuticals.
 
Once WeDoctor has helped to improve China’s healthcare infrastructure, the nation would have amassed the world’s largest personal, medical and genomic data base of its citizens. WeDoctor will then be well positioned to turn its formidable AI prowess to accelerating R&D in lifesciences, improving the accuracy of early diagnoses, enhancing the monitoring of devastating life-threatening diseases and improving personalized care.
 
WeDoctor is an exemplar for Western MedTech companies.
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Will Devi Shetty have a major influence on global healthcare?

  • Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH) is an innovative Indian healthcare provider
  • In just 15 years NH has become one of India’s leading hospital groups
  • Founded by Dr Devi Shetty, a heart surgeon, NH treats nearly 2m patients a year
  • NH has built an international reputation for affordable quality healthcare
  • A number of large institutional investors are betting that NH can grow
  • Is NH’s model of affordable quality healthcare replicable outside of India?
 

PART 1


Dr. Devi Shetty, founder and chairman of Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH), an innovative Indian healthcare provider, wants to transform the way healthcare is delivered across the world. Can he do it?

This Commentary is in three parts. Part 1 is a general introduction to NH and its recent initial public offering. It describes some of NH’s internal challenges and suggests that it is reasonable to assume that these will be overcome given its position within a buoyant Indian healthcare market. Part 2 describes some key aspects of NH’s model for affordable quality healthcare. In particular, it shows how Shetty has embraced information technology and some aspects of scientific management to create mega hospitals in India that deliver sustained high volume affordable quality care. Part 3 discusses some of the challenges associated with replicating the NH model outside of India. It briefly describes Shetty’s initiative to create a medical city in the Cayman Islands to capture share from the North and South American healthcare markets. It discusses some of the barriers to replicating the model in the UK and other developed markets. And suggests that besides India; Africa, despite its complexities and challenges might offer NH growth opportunities. It also suggests that NH could play a leading role in training a new generation of healthcare professionals specifically attuned to the vast and escalating healthcare needs of developing economies, and this could be commercially valuable.

London-based financial institution CDC and a number of others think he can. In December 2015 the CDC Group, owned by the British government, with an investment portfolio valued at £2.8bn, backed NH’s initial public offering (IPO) with an investment of US$48m. The IPO valued NH at US$1bn. The issue was 8.6 times oversubscribed, with most of the demand coming from foreign institutional investors. Beside CDC, other anchor investors included the government of Singapore, Morgan Stanley, Nomura, BlackRock, and Prudential.
 
Dharmesh Mehta, managing director and CEO of Axis Capital, one of the bankers to the issue, said:  “We got one of the best anchor books, with several long-term investors supporting it. Investors are bullish about the Indian healthcare space, especially hospitals, and Narayana Hrudayalaya has a unique business model, and the backing of good quality management.”
 
In the video below Shetty argues that, “Healthcare of the future will not be an extension of the past.” Shetty has a good understanding about how technology is revolutionizing the way healthcare is delivered, and changing its structure and organization to such an extent that the future of healthcare will be dramatically different from what it is today. Healthcare is moving beyond the hospital towards patient self-knowledge and empowerment. Home-healthcare services facilitate enhanced doctor-patient connectivity where it had not been previously possible.

        
         (click to play the video)
 

Narayana Hrudayalaya

Shetty, who has more than three decades of experience as a cardiac surgeon both in the UK and India, founded NH in 2001. Since then, it has become one of India’s leading healthcare service providers; with a network of 23 multi-specialty, primary and tertiary healthcare facilities, eight heart centers, and 25 primary care facilities, across 32 cities, towns and villages in India. Currently, NH has 5,600 operational beds, and an aspiration to increase this to 30,000 by 2020. NH employs some 12,500 people, including 818 doctors, 5,400 nurses, and about 1,660 visiting consultants.  

In fiscal year 2015, Narayana provided care to nearly two million patients, and undertook more than 51,456 cardiology procedures, 14,000 cardiac surgeries - which accounted for 10% of the national figure - and 184,443 dialysis procedures. Narayana posted revenues of US$219m for fiscal year 2015 and profit after tax of $2m. For the four fiscal years that ended March 31, 2015, the company’s revenues grew at a compounded annual rate of 30%.

 

Access to healthcare for millions of poor people

NH has one of the world’s largest telemedicine networks with 150 centers including 50 in Africa, where Shetty sees further expansion opportunities for NH. The service is free-of-charge, and enhances the connectivity between remote health facilities and consultants at Narayana. Shetty, a vocal advocate of affordable healthcare, helped design the Karnataka State government Yeshasvini scheme, which is one of the largest self-funded micro healthcare insurance programs in India. It covers about 2 million people who previously did not have access to healthcare. Participants pay US$1.40 per year, which provides them with free access to over 800 surgical procedures in 400 hospitals. In the past 10 years, 85,000 peasant farmers have used the insurance to have surgery.  
 

Challenges

NH faces some challenges. Its profit margins are low, and its revenues are mainly derived from three of its largest hospitals, which concentrate on cardiac care and cardiology. As of March 2015, the company’s recent acquisitions and expansion into the Cayman Islands, where it opened a 130 bed tertiary hospital, were making losses.
 
However, NH’s acquisitions and expansion are strategic, and their pay-off are expected to accrue over the next four years. Also, higher yields from value-added therapies such as oncology, neurology and gastroenterology are anticipated to improve Narayana’s average revenue per operating bed (ARPOB). The company’s strategy to focus on the mid-income segment of the market is predicted to increase its utilization, given that this is a large, rapidly growing, and immediately addressable market. Narayana is also advantaged by its history of efficient use of capital: it has a debt-equity ratio of only about 0.3.
 

Market drivers

Investors might have been influenced by the falling gold, oil and real estate markets, and the relative attraction of the Indian healthcare sector, buoyed by changing demographics, rising incomes and a large and expanding middle class, greater health awareness, changes in disease profiles, and a rising penetration of health insurance. By 2020 India is expected to be the world’s third largest middle class consumer market behind China and the US. By 2030 India is projected to surpass both countries with an aggregated consumer spend of some US$13 trillion. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) suggests that if India continues to grow at her current pace, average household incomes will triple over the next two decades, making the country the world’s fifth-largest consumer economy by 2025, up from the current 12th position.
 
While recognizing the challenges for India’s healthcare sector, investors must have thought that NH is well positioned to take advantage of the expected explosion in India’s middle class consumer market. Narayana has a strong brand name, and it is one of India’s leading healthcare companies, with significant revenue growth over the past four years. Its services appear cheaper than those of its competitors, such as Chennai’s Apollo Hospitals Limited, which has about four times the revenues of NH, and Delhi’s Fortis Healthcare, which is about three times bigger in revenue terms. This suggests that NH has scope for substantial growth.

 

PART 2


International attention

Healthcare systems worldwide consume a large and escalating share of national incomes, and costs and quality of care are the two most hotly debated issues among healthcare professionals. Does Shetty have an answer?

For many years, Shetty has attracted international attention. For example, in 2010 a UK prime ministerial delegation visited NH’s Medical City in Bangalore. Vince Cable, then the UK’s Business Secretary, said: “What we're trying to do in the UK is to get more for less. Dr Shetty has shown us a model by which we do not need to accept inferior healthcare because there's less money, but actually how to get more out of the system for less resource,” Cable described his visit as “inspirational” and went on to say, "I just found it overwhelming. NH combines what we always see in a good health system, which is humane humanitarian behaviour, with sound economics."
 

The Henry Ford of heart surgery

Worldwide, the demand for healthcare services is rising faster than its supply. By focusing on an endeavor to make doctors more effective, NH has demonstrated that it can deliver what Cable wanted: enhanced patient outcomes for less money.  “We have invested in infrastructure. Similar infrastructure in the UK and the US is used for about eight to nine hours a day. Ours is used for 14 to 15 hours a day, which allows us to perform the high volume of procedures,” says Shetty. In 2009 the Wall Street Journal referred to him as “the Henry Ford of Heart Surgery”.
 
In a similar way Henry Ford used large factories and mass-production techniques to manufacture a large number of quality cars, which many ordinary people could afford; so Shetty developed large hospitals, and a significant skill base, which he used to improve the quality of surgical processes and reduce costs. This enabled him to offer large numbers of people access to affordable high quality healthcare. 
 
NH doctors, who are on fixed salaries, work in teams. Each team comprises a specialist, a number of junior doctors, trainees, nurses and paramedics. A bypass surgery typically takes about five hours. The actual grafting, which is the critical part, takes only an hour and is performed by an experienced specialist surgeon, while harvesting of the veins/arteries, opening and closing of the chest, suturing and other procedures are carried out by junior doctors. Nurses and paramedics handle the preparation and the aftercare of the patient. This Henry Ford-type process leaves the specialist free to perform more surgeries. As the volume of surgeries increase, outcomes improve and costs are reduced. A heart surgery at NH costs less that US$2,000 per operation.
 
NH’s lower costs have not come at the expense of quality. Narayana’s mortality rate for coronary artery bypass procedures is 1.27%, and its infection rate 1%, which are as good as that of US hospitals. Incidence of bedsores after cardiac surgery is anywhere between 8% and 40% globally, whereas at NH it has been almost zero in the last four years.
 

It can’t be done!

When we started our journey we were discouraged by people saying that, there is no such thing as low-cost high quality healthcare, and that healthcare is expensive and will always be expensive. Only when people become wealthy they can afford quality healthcare . . . . . When I grew up, I looked at some of the richest countries in the world, struggling to offer healthcare to its citizens, and quickly realized that even if India became a rich country, it still would not be able to guarantee healthcare to everyone. We had to change the way we were doing things, and this is what we’ve done,” says Shetty.
 

Socializing the P&L

UK doctors and health providers often talk about reducing the costs of healthcare, but, says Shetty, doctors “usually have no idea how much they are spending”.  In contrast, at noon every day all NH doctors receive an SMS with NH’s previous day’s revenue, expenses and EBIDTA (earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amortization). According to Dr. Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, NH’s CEO, “When you look at financials at the end of the month, it’s a post-mortem. When you look at them daily, you can do something to change things”. The daily data doctors receive describes their operations, and the various levels of reimbursement. “It’s not just a cheap process, it’s effective,” says Raghuvanshi.
 
In the video below Shetty suggests that a key factor for the future success of NHS England will be its ability to re-invent itself, increase its focus on costs and outcomes, benchmark key functions with successful international comparators, and instil strict financial discipline in doctors, “because they represent the biggest spend in healthcare systems,” says Shetty.

      
      (click to play the video)
 

Information technology

Healthcare systems require radical change at every level in order to reduce the vast and upward trajectory of unsustainable costs, improve patient experiences and outcomes, speed the translation of research into therapies, and make healthcare accessible to everyone. Information technology helps in these regards. NH regularly mines data to raise the quality of care and patient outcomes. Its business intelligence activities manages real time data on 30 different parameters that track and support efficiency improvement. Those related to clinical outcomes are then reviewed at a weekly meeting, where all major clinical procedures are discussed among doctors and best practices shared. This way NH maps the cost effectiveness of each doctor.

 

PART 3


Affordable quality healthcare outside India

An example of Shetty’s model of affordable quality healthcare working effectively outside of India is Narayana Health Cayman Islands. The Cayman government has given Shetty a 200-acre site, and New York investors have backed him to develop and operate a Health City. In 2014 NH opened its first phase, a 130-bed tertiary hospital targeting the elective surgery markets of North and South America. “Narayana Health City Cayman will demonstrate how over-priced and inefficient US hospitals actually are, and show that lower costs and better outcomes can be achieved outside of India just as well as in Bangalore,” says Shetty.
 

The UK

There are numerous barriers to adopting the Shetty model in the UK and in other developed economies. NHS England has its innovators, and there are efforts to roll out innovations nationally, but they have limited success, mainly because innovations tend to be isolated and local, and not widely known across different NHS functions or beyond sector boundaries. The lack of centralised expertise in NHS England skews perspectives and limits resources. This presents a significant obstacle to the adoption of compelling healthcare innovations, such as those demonstrated by Narayana.

Further, there is doctor-resistance to innovations in the UK. Doctors are trained to identify and implement proven and recommended treatment protocols for various disease states. To deviate from this is to run the risk of prosecution. Further, health professionals in the UK are increasingly time-pressed, with the result that acquiring and adopting new and innovative pathways of care takes a back seat. See, Meeting the challenges of affordable quality healthcare. and, The end of doctors,
 

Medical tourism

"Medical tourism" refers to traveling to another country for medical care. The world population is aging and becoming more affluent at rates that surpass the availability of quality healthcare resources. In addition, out-of-pocket medical costs of critical and elective procedures continue to rise, while nations offering universal care, such as the UK, are faced with ever-increasing resource burdens. These drivers are forcing patients to pursue cross-border healthcare options either to save money or to avoid long waits for treatment.
 
It is estimated that the worldwide medical tourism market is between US$50bn and US$65bn, and growing at an annual rate of between 15%-25%. In 2015 some 1.5 million US residents travelled abroad for care, up from 0.5 million in 2007. Two of their top destinations were Costa Rica and India. The former can yield savings on standard surgical procedures of between 45% and 65%, and the latter, between 65% and 90%.
 
Beyond the US, the OECD estimates that there are up to 50 million medical tourists worldwide annually. The most common procedures that people undergo on medical tourism trips include heart surgery, dentistry and cosmetic procedures. People are attracted to well-known, internationally accredited hospitals, which have a flow of medical tourists, internationally trained experienced health professionals, a sustained reputation for clinical excellence, and a history of healthcare innovation and achievement.
 
Already, NH attracts medical tourists from over 50 countries, it has an international reputation for excellence, many of its top health professionals have been trained and have gained clinical experience in the US and Europe, and it has a significant track record in high demand areas, particularly heart surgery. This suggests that NH is well positioned to take advantage in the future growth of medical tourism, and this is probably something taken into account by NH’s anchor investors.
 

Africa

Because of entrenched obstacles to change in the healthcare systems of developed economies, Shetty has indicated an interest in Africa. In the past, private healthcare providers have neglected African healthcare; it has been underserved by governments, and mostly reliant on irregular help from abroad. However, this is about to change, and there is some evidence to suggest that healthcare reform in Africa is beginning. A 2016 African Healthcare Summit suggests that African healthcare spending is expected to grow to 6.4% of GDP in 2016, making it the second highest category of government investment. A Report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank suggests that, over the next 10 years, there will be, “considerable African demand” for investment in hospitals, medicines and health professionals, and meeting this demand, “can deliver strong financial returns.”
 
Healthcare providers also can take heart that a number of African countries are trying to establish or widen social insurance programs to give medical cover to more of their citizens. Further, there are six African countries with projected compounded annual growth rates (CAGR) for 2014 through 2017 of between 7.12% and 9.7%. These are: Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia.
 
Notwithstanding, Africa is facing a dual challenge of communicable and parasitic diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, and growing rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer and respiratory diseases. Increased urbanisation in many African countries, along with growing incomes and changing lifestyles, have led to a rise in the rate of chronic conditions, which are projected to overtake communicable diseases as Africa’s principal health challenge by 2030. This suggests that despite the fledging signs of change, over the next decade African healthcare will remain challenging. However, over the past 15 years, NH’s has demonstrated capabilities to meet and overcome similar challenges in India, which positions it well to succeed in Africa where it already has a non-trivial telemedicine presence.
 

Training health professionals

The healthcare and wellness industry is positioned to be a driver of the world economy in the 21st century. Healthcare is about a US$6 trillion global market, which is increasing. Advances in medical technology, public health and governance have improved healthcare for about 30% of the world’s population. But billions of people still have no access to healthcare.

The WHO estimates that there is a shortage of nearly 13 million healthcare workers globally, but Shetty believes these shortages could be significantly higher. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners the shortage of doctors in the UK is the worst it has been for 40 years. One hundred primary care practices, serving 700,000 patients across Britain, are facing closure, and the number of GP-patient consultations is estimated to rise from 338 million in 2013 to 441 million by 2017. UK experts warn that primary care doctors with too many patients will fail to provide adequate healthcare through current delivery methods, and they say that this is expected to further drive patients to search online for health-related issues. See: Curing the Problems of General Practice.

Such shortages concern Shetty, who believes that the situation will only be improved with a radical change in the way healthcare is delivered. “This”, says Shetty, “will only be achieved with a change in the way health professionals are trained.” Future health professionals need to be trained for a world of e-patients. Digital classrooms will create new connections between students and health professionals and allow for access to the most current information and resources. Shetty advocates the development of a virtual global medical university, with features that include a cross-country curriculum and a reduced training period. “This is the only way we will increase the much needed pool of healthcare talent,” says Shetty.
 

Takeaways

While change in western healthcare systems will neither be quick nor easy, NH’s near to medium term growth will most probably come from India, the Caymans, Africa and other developing countries where the need for quality healthcare is high and growing fast, and the barriers to entry relative low. In time, however, the US and the UK might be able to benefit from some of Narayana’s best practices so that an increasing percentage Americans may have access to high quality affordable healthcare, and NHS England maybe reformed to ensure its survival.

 
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4 years, 2 months ago

London heart attack sufferers taken to a specialist cardiac centre have a 60% chance of survival, whereas those taken to an A&E unit only have, at best, a 26% chance of survival: according to unpublished information from the London Ambulance Service.

Experts say that the current provision of cardiac services in north and east London have, "relatively poor patient outcomes in comparison to the rest of England", and suggest that St Bartholomew's Hospital in central London should be transformed into a huge cardiovascular surgery unit, and a hub for a comprehensive network of care, which would embrace GPs and local hospitals.

For years, world-renowned heart surgeon and philanthropist Devi Shetty, has argued that, “One hundred or 200 bed hospitals are not the solution.” Shetty is the founder and chairman of Narayana Health, which boasts Asia’s largest cardiac centre providing world-class cardiac care at affordable prices. “Large specialist cardiac centres, treating high volumes of patients, staffed by specialists and equipped with the latest technology, save lives, reduce complications, lower costs, and are the hospitals of the future,” says Shetty.

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Gordon Moore
Professor of Population Medicine
 Harvard University  Medical School

'We must tap into the largest unused source of manpower: the patients themselves.'


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Meeting the challenges of affordable quality healthcare

Health care systems throughout the world are about to be hit by a tsunami.  Dramatically escalating GP demand is driven by the growth of life-style-related chronic illness, the surge of baby-boomers, a primary-care doctor shortage in some countries, and, in America, the surge of unmet needs now paid for by Obamacare. Either the current system will seize up, or new ways of caring for patients must be found.

Traditional responses unsustainable
Typically, healthcare systems respond to increased demand by adding manpower: usually nurses and other health workers. Increasing manpower reduces the potential for economies of scale in which increased volume reduces costs. Even worse, with additional workers added to a healthcare practice, efficiency actually decreases as downtime, communication costs, turnover, coverage, duplication and re-work increases. 

Healthcare systems must find a way to reduce the costs as they struggle to meet this surge of demand.  The old manpower-based responses, which at first seem attractive solutions, are unsustainable in the long run.

4 musts
What are the answers? 
  • First, we must tap into the largest unused source of manpower: the patients themselves.  Anyone who cares for patients with diabetes, smoking, or high blood pressure knows that the best plans of GPs often are not carried out despite many repeated visits to the doctor or nurse. 
  • Second, to activate patients, care support for them must be truly patient-centred.  Patients need help to gain confidence necessary to take control of their own therapeutic pathways. Such a system of support requires “having your doctor in your pocket”, which should be entertaining, engaging, educational, available 24/7, continuously helpful, personalized, and safe.
  • Third,having your doctor in your pocket,” can only be achieved if IT is used in new and innovative ways.  The most cost-effective avenue by which we can move patients with chronic illnesses to become more actively involved in their own care is through the Internet, where dramatic shifts in user interfaces, devices, and process interactions are taking place almost daily. By transferring expert knowledge to patients and thereby creating a truly patient-centred system, caring for ones’ own illness will be no more difficult than using a cash machine or mastering a smart phone.  
  • Finally, if the Internet can facilitate the transfer of knowledge from the medical system to the patient, then also it can facilitate the transfer of expert health knowledge to lower the cost of all clinical personnel from doctors to nurses to health coaches.  If guidelines, such as those produced by NICE in the UK, are built into the process of care that health professionals use, we would have developed a system that significantly extends the capacity of health professionals while maintaining the safety and quality aspects of care that increasingly people expect and demand.  An apt analogy is the way that today’s cockpit technology enables all pilots to be as good as the best.  Through the use of technology, we can do the same in medical care.
The past is no indication of the future
Today, healthcare is largely using IT to reproduce what doctors have done in the past. The electronic record is little different to paper records.  In the evolution of any new technology, its application development goes through this stage. However, we must put IT to use in doing new things, in innovation that reduces our dependence on expensive manpower and in producing more value for less money.

Making such a transition will not be easy or inexpensive.  But the costs of remaining the same and trying to meet escalating healthcare demands by adding more costly inputs are higher and more threatening in the long run.  We should be investing in the future, not tinkering with the present.  
 
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4 years, 5 months ago

What does the nephew of the 41st American President and the cousin of the 43rd have in common with an Indian doctor?

They’re both passionate about using new technologies to provide high quality healthcare at affordable cost.

Bush and Shetty
Jonathan Bush, a relative of two former American Presidents, is the co-author of Where Does it Hurt? which calls for a healthcare revolution to give patients more choices, and affordable quality care.

A former Army medic and ambulance driver, Bush is the cofounder and CEO of athenahealth, one of the fastest growing American cloud-based service companies, which handles electronic medical records, billing, and patient communications for more than 50,000 US health providers.

Dr Devi Shetty is a brilliant heart surgeon, and veteran of more than 30,000 operations. However, his growing international reputation rests less on his medical skill, and more on his business brain. He wants to do for healthcare what Henry Ford did for the motorcar: “make quality healthcare affordable.”

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