We spoke to Rupak Barua, CEO, AMRI, to gauge the present climate of Bengal’s healthcare industry and to understand how transparency would play a major role in redefining the ambit of this sector. Excerpts:
After watching the evolution of Bengal’s health sector from close quarters, how would you like to analyze the present status of the industry?
I have been an integral part of this industry for almost three decades and have witnessed many peaks and valleys. The healthcare sector in India has fast evolved into a goliath from an extremely sloppy beginning. Bengal as a state has reaped the benefits of this growth and became a major healthcare hub in eastern India.
The deregulation in the insurance sector had a rippling effect on the entire healthcare demography and India. Affordable healthcare became a reality and quality of service witnessed a major face-lift. Eastern India was a late starter but soon entered the race and ushered in major investments and developed some of the top-notch healthcare institutions to woo the pool of patients pouring in from Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries. The presence of the healthcare bigwigs has stalled the erosion of patients.
Healthcare in India is like a premature baby that needs proper care and conducive ambience to grow. Do you agree?
The fast-paced growth in healthcare was often defined as premature as it was never properly aided by skilled manpower and a strong insurance skeleton. The tsunami of development that we are witnessing presently is still restricted within the city and has not spilled over to the rural areas of India and Bengal. We need to divert the investment towards the establishment of the state-of-the-art nursing colleges and medical colleges. Investors must pump in money to create more able hands to balance the demand, supply ratio.
There are several roadblocks which are arresting the organic surge of the healthcare sector in India. How do you think we can overcome them gradually?
Like any other country, India is also combating a slew of issues which are taking a toll on the overall growth of the healthcare sector. A swelling population, lack of trained manpower, the absence of paramedical facilities and spiking expectations of the common man is constantly haunting the healthcare domain of the nation. Medical fraternity of the countries such as the US and UK are also gasping with some of the pertinent problems like steep price rise and inadequate infrastructure.
The loopholes in the infrastructure of healthcare in the western countries are extremely beneficial for us and other South-East Asian nations which are actively promoting medical tourism to fish in troubled waters.
The players operating in the private healthcare arena of India is often criticized for overbilling. But as we all know that quality comes at a cost, is it possible to strike a balance?
The private healthcare sector is a demanding and cost-oriented sector. Cost is an integral part of the private healthcare industry as we ensure quality. To create a state-of-the-art healthcare facility in India, we have to pump in more than Rs 80 lakh per bed. So to create a 100-bed healthcare facility, we approximately invest more than Rs 100 crore.
Apart from this, any private healthcare institution splurge money on modern equipment and skilled manpower to stay afloat. A healthcare organization always stays under the radar of different government agencies and we have to keep ourselves upgraded as we are dealing with precious human lives.
As an organization, AMRI has always endorsed transparency and we always try to strike a balance between quality and cost. We and several other players in this sector are baffled by the challenges and trying hard to meet the expectations of the customers.
The insurance sector is limping into the rural areas of India. Do you think a strong insurance skeleton can become the harbinger of hope?
A healthy insurance infrastructure can aid the healthcare industry of India and it can also act as a bridge between the virgin rural market and the private stakeholders of the medical industry. Companies operating in the private insurance sector must create awareness amongst the rural customers and create demand through efficient and transparent service.
By developing a parallel paramedical system, do you think the private healthcare can bail them out from this condition?
The private healthcare ecosystem is bleeding badly because of the factors like rising cost and drought of skilled manpower. We are constantly trying to create a leeway by establishing a parallel healthcare structure. It is aimed at benefitting service providers and service buyers. All the private players are supporting the home care concept as it slashes the overall cost of treatment significantly and helps us to cater to more patients by reducing the ALOS (Average Length of Stay) of a patient.
We are also promoting fixed packages as it is completely stalling the entire cost of the treatment within a range. Our Formulatory Committee constantly scrutinizes the condition of every patient.
Every healthcare player operating in this region is eyeing Bangladesh and Myanmar markets. Do you think this over-dependency on the overseas market might take a toll on the growth of the healthcare industry of the east?
These markets are extremely lucrative and all healthcare institutions operating in this part of the country are fetching patients from these regions. It’s a matter of survival and apart from us, there are several other countries that are constantly trying to tap the potential of these markets. We are locking horns with other countries to bring in more revenue from the overseas markets and I believe that this will ultimately benefit the health care economy of the state as well as the country.
The PPP model in the healthcare sector is still bleak in India as well as in Bengal. How can we change the entire fabric of healthcare through private-public partnership?
PPP models can really usher in a revolution in the healthcare sector of India as well as Bengal. The government of West Bengal is doing a commendable job in the healthcare sector under the guidance and vision of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The state government has already created robust healthcare infrastructure not only in urban areas but also in the rural belts of Bengal. A steady promotion of the PPP models can create a better healthcare climate within the state. Private players and government must come to a point of agreement by keeping in mind the overall development of the citizens of the state. AMRI is working on five PPP projects spread across different districts of Bengal. A proper harmony must be created between government and private players to build a strong PPP based healthcare ecosystem.
Telemedicine has never evolved in our country, why?
The evolution of the concept of telemedicine is crippled in India because of lack of perspective. Still, patients rely upon face-to-face interactions with the doctor. The lack of connectivity in the rural areas also blocked the spread of this concept. But now, with the digital revolution, things are changing. The spread of internet in the rural areas would really bring back the lost glory of telemedicine.
What’s your take on the future of rural healthcare in India?
As an organization, AMRI has been constantly working to develop a proper rural healthcare facility in Bengal. But we are facing problems in wooing skilled manpower in the rural areas of the country as some of the rural or semi-urban locations still lack civic facilities. The government must create a strong civic facility to back the rural healthcare industry.