Sunil Kumar, the chief operating officer of Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals, starts off the interview with some mind-blowing figures: "In 2001 we had one cardiac hospital with 225 beds, this year we run 13 hospitals with more than 4.000 beds. Our aim is to build hospitals in all Indian cities and offer 30.000 beds. We now perform 7.000 open heart surgeries yearly."
"In comparison", adds professor Frits van Merode (dean sciences and board member of Maastricht University), "In the Maastricht academic hospital we yearly perform 1.100 of such operations."
The vision of Dr. Shetty
India is big, and therefore 'big thinking' is allowed in India. The clear need for better healthcare among the large part of the population that is still very poor made dr. Devi Shetty (the founder of Narayana Hrudayalaya )devise a scalable system of surgery.
Last year Dr. Shetty received The Economist Innovation Award for taking a "Henry Ford-view" to health care. The jury proclaimed: "Dr. Shetty has shown that better health care need not cost more. Better processes can make a huge difference. He is renowned for his skill as a surgeon, but we are recognising his additional talent as an innovator."
And quantity goes hand in hand with quality: The Economist pointed out that Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital reported a 1.4 per cent mortality rate within 30 days of coronary-artery bypass-graft surgery, compared with an average of 1.9 per cent mortality rate in America."
It was Shetty that motivated Sunil Kumar to become involved in the hospital-project. "I met him at a conference 22 years ago and I was very impressed by his visionary thinking. Ever since I have been part of his journey."
Kumar mentions the story of a newly married couple that had a baby with a cardiac problem. "Surgery cost 250.000 rupiahs, that's about $ 4.000, and of course those parents don't have that amount of money. It is an awful thing: you are tagging the life of that child with a price. There is no other solution to this problem than bringing down the price of health care."
Fraction of the average price
Bringing down costs is something that Narayana Hrudayalaya does pretty well: at this moment an open hearth operation is performed at the price of $2.000 euro, but the hospital is aiming at a break-even price of $800. A quick internet search shows that elsewhere in the world average prices run at $20.000.
The best of both worlds
The work of Narayana Hrudayalaya neatly fits in with the work of Frits de Merode: "I used to work in Africa and India a lot, started a project looking for the best hospitals of the world at the bottom of the pyramid. Hospitals that service not the rich, but the poor." Mr. Kumar and Mr. Van Merode share the same motivation: the quest for making healthcare accessible to all people.
In 2009 Maastricht University and Narayana Hrudayalaya embarked on a unique initiative to build capacity through partnerships. Van Merode: "We are building thematic research centres in India, based on the best that both sides have to offer."
"The concept of problem based learning has been very interesting for us", adds Sunil Kumar. "This is very different from what we are used to. It triggers innovative thinking." On the other hand it's the innovative practice in the Indian operating room that fascinates partners in Maastricht.
Van Merode: "In the last 24 months we have had more than a dozen research scholars from India working for their PhD with Maastricht University, and a few doctors are perceiving their full time PhD programme here." Moreover Maastricht University has opened a subsidiary (Maastricht Education and Research Centre- MERC) in Bangalore. The mandate for this unique India initiative is to build partnerships with the best in India and build top quality research in select areas of social relevance."