Monday, June 1, 2009

Health Care Consumers Winning in India

"America's spending on health care is soaring, yet its medical outcomes remain mediocre."

So states "Lessons from a frugal innovator" in the Economist here. The article begins with the description of a complex heart bypass surgery, while the patient is having a chat. This approach has been pioneered by Dr. Vivek Jawali at Wockhardt, an Indian hospital chain. According to the article this is just one of the many innovation in health care in India. The article goes on to share other innovation-in-practice examples like the one above.

The article highlights how the Western prowess in the medicine perhaps may be detrimental to itself:

"Dr. Jawali is feted today as a pioneer, but he remembers how Western colleagues ridiculed him for years for advocating his inventive “awake surgery”. He thinks that snub reflects an innate cultural advantage enjoyed by India.

Unlike the hidebound health systems of the rich world, he says, “in our country’s patient-centric health system you must innovate.” This does not mean adopting every fancy new piece of equipment. Over the years he has rejected surgical robots and “keyhole surgery” kit because the costs did not justify the benefits. Instead, he has looked for tools and techniques that spare resources and improve outcomes."

Interestingly, I experienced this first hand at a seminar discussing changes in health care in the USA. An Indian student tried to highlight some of the advantages stated in the article and the presenter proceeded to slight him that this may not be the case on this particular planet.

Yet, as the article shows, the Western organizations themselves are tired of their own system.

"Columbia Asia, a privately held American firm with over a dozen hospitals across Asia, is also making a big push into India. Rick Evans, its boss, says his investors left America to escape over-regulation and the political power of the medical lobby."

India is offering another advantage to the breakthrough innovators, faster improvements at speeds unparalleled in any other part of the world.

"[Aravind, the world’s biggest eye-hospital chain] staff screen over 2.7m patients a year via clinics in remote areas, referring 285,000 of them for surgery at its hospitals. International experts vouch that the care is good, not least because Aravind’s doctors perform so many more operations than they would in the West that they become expert."

Perhaps, this is an approach to perfection through practice, as the old adage goes! The article closes with:

"[Tim Brown, head of Ideo] says, "In health care, as in life, there is need for both Ferraris and Tata Nanos."

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