Monday, 20 August 2012

Sustainable Health Care for all?

Over the last decade a number of governments of developed economies have questioned their health care model.  In the US, President Obama has gone out on a limb to set up a much needed Medicare service to ensure access to health care services for those that most need it.  In many European countries as well as Japan, the generous health care benefits that were a universal right where being questioned in the face of growing economic uncertainties.  On the one hand, the American system championing a free economy and private medical insurance that has left many of the poorer members of  its society without access to basic health service, while on the other the European model, which although long praised for its compassionate stance, turns out to be wholly unsustainable.

Can we evolve towards a more humane and sustainable health care model?  I believe a small experiment started off by an enterprising eye surgeon in Madurai (South India) which has grown into a world wide success may shed some light on the question.

I recall some 25 years back, Arvind eye hospital was already renown in the country for its service as my mother used to drag me all the way to Madurai for her annual check up on Glaucoma. Since, the hospital started by Dr. G. Venkataswamy, has grown into a network of several hospitals within India but also expanded its business model through out the world.  It is today recognised as the largest eye care hospital in the world!

If you have never heard of Aravind eye hospital, watch this video, it's well worth it!

The Aravind health care model

So what is so sustainable about this model?  Well it's very simple, if you can afford to, you pay for the service.  If you can't afford it, it's free!  The model started off in South India to save needless blindness which is rampant in the form of cataracts and such.  The hospital even had to set up free bus trips to surrounding villages as the poorer of the poor could not even afford to go to the service centres.

Aravind eye-care hospital is a for-profit business.  2/3rd of all its operations are done for free.  They have eye camps in villages that sort out patients, ferry them to the hospital for the operation, accommodate them and feed them during their time there and eventually bring them back to their village.  Everything is free.

People come from abroad to get treated in these hospitals.  The Aravind business model is now a case study in a large number of business schools and universities.

The McDonald of Eye-care

Dr. V kept talking about the need to organise a system that could reproduce the success of McDonald worldwide: enable the same quality of product and service irrespective of location.  He set off with his vision to enable his eye-care success to be reproduced anywhere in the world.  How does one enable such a vision with a such a complicated product and service as eye surgery?  This is what a recent study by Ninad knowledge architects set out to do.   Ninad is a research and consulting network that ideates Knowledge Management strategies to help entrepreneurs and organizations to become nimble and dynamic.   The case study has highlighted issues such as how to translate and communicate online teachings from Indian doctors to students from totally different cultural background such as in African countries? Through this work, the spirit and success of the Aravind will spread beyond India.

Sustainable Care?

Can the Aravind model serve as an inspiration for a more general approach to the problem of health care for everyone?  It is of course a long shot, Aravind has been successful because of the compassionate spirit that permeated the entire project.  A sustainable health care model based on a similar approach requires vision from both the decision makers as well as the corporates that supply the medical world.  Still, a roadmap exists and has proven to work!