Imagine the feelings of a mother when she hands her few days old child for a heart operation. In India, about three hundred thousand children suffer from heart disease every year- highest in the world. India requires 25 lakh heart surgeries a year but does only 60,000. What if the family is not financially capable to afford the surgery? Heart diseases are one of the most expensive diseases and Indians are genetically 3 times more vulnerable for heart attacks than Europeans and Americans.
Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, The King of Real Hearts, is a renowned cardiac surgeon and an Indian philanthropist, well known for providing pioneering quality of medical care at affordable prices. He was recently recognized by CNN-IBN as Indian of The Year 2012. Dr. Shetty has performed over 15,000 heart operations and is a proud recipient of Padma Bhushan for Medicine in 2012. Taking advantage of the economies of scale, much affordable heart surgeries are completed in his hospitals. The Wall Street Journal has given him the title of The Henry Ford of Heart Surgery.
Born in Karnataka, Dr. Shetty decided to become a heart surgeon when he heard about a South African surgeon who had just performed the world’s first heart transplant from his fifth grade teacher. He completed his graduate degree in medicine and post-graduate work in General Surgery from Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore. During his initial years, while working at B.M. Birla Hospital in Kolkata he operated on Mother Theresa after she had a heart attack and subsequently served as her personal physician. Dr. Shetty says,
One woman who has tremendously influenced my life is Mother Teresa. I was treating her at the BM Birla Hospital in Kolkata, and while she was at the hospital recuperating, she would often accompany me when I went on rounds in the hospital. There were many child patients admitted with cardiac problems. One day as we went visiting kids she defined a pediatric heart surgeon to me in the most beautiful way possible. “I know why you are here,” said Mother. And I asked her, “Why Mother?” “When God created these children with heart problems, he was pre-occupied and so he sent you here to treat them,” she replied. That truly touched my heart.
In 2001, Dr. Shetty founded Narayana Hrudayalaya, a multispeciality hospital in Bommasandra on the outskirts of Bangalore City. He started it, because he could not find any employers who understood him. He believes cost of healthcare can be reduced by 50% by adopting the idea of economies of scale. With this idea in mind, Dr. Shetty with his team pioneered the unique concept of “Health City”, a 2000-5000 bed conglomeration of multiple super specialty hospitals in a single campus.
Today Narayana Hrudayalaya currently runs 5,500 beds across 14 hospitals in 11 cities, all under one brand. The cardiac unit of Narayana Hrudalaya in Bangalore is one of the world’s largest heart hospitals performing over 30 major heart surgeries a day. The Health City also houses a center for neurosciences, a children’s hospital, a cancer research centre and general hospital. Patient inflow to Narayana Health City is not only from within India, but also from neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh. By 2013 end, six new hospitals will be opened on the Narayana Hrudayalaya model across the country which will provide high quality treatment at lower cost.
Dr. Shetty and his family have a 75% stake in Narayana Hrudayalaya Group which he plans to preserve so that he does not have to compromise on the freedom or decision making power in his mission to help the underprivileged and to bring down the cost of healthcare in the country.
The Narayana Hrudayalaya Group, in association with ISRO, also manages the world’s largest telemedicine programme. The telemedicine network of the hospital connects to countries like Malaysia, Mauritius and Pakistan; with most of the cases referred through telemedicine being cardiac ones. The telemedicine services provided by the hospital are free and more than 21000 cases have been referred using this service.
Micro Health Insurance – Yeshaswini
Unlike as in developed countries, more than 80% Indians pay for medical expenses from their own pocket and medical cost is one of the main reasons of poor people going into debt.
Dr. Shetty believes that if a solution is not affordable, then it is not a solution. He has a vision of providing every Indian child with a same medical care as to a child in US. Dr. Shetty says, “If I am given a choice I would like to treat only poor patients. But unfortunately the economic reality does not allow me to do that. Technology gives the rich what they already have but it gives the poor what they can never dream of having. Poor people in isolation are weak but together they are very strong.” This simple idea gave birth to the term “Micro Health Insurance” and spearheaded the launch of Yeshaswini, a health insurance for the farmers in Karnataka, in association with the State Government. At Rs.10 per month, Yeshaswini is the world’s cheapest comprehensive health insurance scheme. In the first 20 months of Yeshaswini, around 85,000 farmers benefited from the free medical treatment.
Dr Shetty is convinced that India will prove to the world that healthcare can be separated from affluence. “After 10 years, we will still have millions of people living with no proper drainage system, but will have access to quality healthcare. This country is going to prove that you don’t need to be rich to avail healthcare.”
On all what he has done and he continues to do, Dr. Shetty says, “We all have one life to live and you want to do as much as you can in that. So I decided to focus on making a difference in the lives of the poor.”