Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Apollo seizes foothold in healthcare

After initial setbacks, the hospital has made a mark in Bangladesh’s services sector
Local entrepreneurs should come forward and invest to set up international standard hospitals, as the country’s healthcare sector remains largely untapped, a physician and marketer said.
“Hospital business is a flourishing business. There are huge prospects in the sector to expand. It is growing at 12 to 15 percent annually,” said Shagufa Anwar, general manager for business development of Apollo Hospitals Dhaka.
“I don’t understand why entrepreneurs do not come and invest in the sector. There is no dearth of patients. You just have to have patience if you come into this business, as you cannot expect profit overnight,” she told The Daily Star in an interview.
Her comments come as Apollo, the leading private hospital in the country, steps into its seventh year since coming into operation in April 2005.
The 40-year-old physician and marketer said Apollo is the country’s first for-profit corporate hospital in the private sector, and had to face huge difficulties when it started journey in Bangladesh.
“In the first two or three years we went through turbulent period. People and medical community took us as an Indian hospital. It is not an Indian hospital. They also thought that it will snatch the market share of local healthcare practitioners of the country.”
Apollo is the country’s only JCI Accredited 450-bed multi-disciplinary super-specialty tertiary care hospital in Bangladesh. The hospital is a joint project of Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd and STS Holdings Ltd (STS Group).
Shagufa said STS Group, one of the largest corporate houses in Bangladesh, has not taken a single penny out of the hospital. “Their policy is whatever profit it makes would be reinvested for the development of the hospital.”
She said initially there were apprehensions and scepticism in general people in the community as this hospital bore the identity of Apollo India. “We faced the mindset in the initial two years. We have gradually claimed and established our position as an internationally-acclaimed healthcare provider based upon clinical excellence.”
Shagufa, who has been with Apollo for three years, said some people also used to think that it is a service sector and it will be like a charity and will not charge money.
“But to build an internationally-accredited hospital, run it efficiently and pay salaries, perks and other facilities to people who will make it an international organisation, we will have to bring in expertise both in hospital and management.”
“We need money to do all these things and we have to earn money from the hospital. We are a for-profit hospital. We are a corporate body as it runs in a corporate fashion.”
Shagufa, a medical graduate from Chittagong Medical College, said the hospital has a very strong management backup. “We have qualified doctors and nurses, big infrastructure and state-of-the-art equipment. There is a collaborative governance system in the hospital to coordinate all the issues.”
She said the country’s hospital sector lacks governance. “In Bangladesh many hospitals are asking physicians to run the management. In most cases, they fail as their expertise is not in that particular area.”
“In our hospital, we keep our clinical specialists or consultants totally free. Their job is just to see and operate upon patients. They do not need to bother about the rest of the work in the hospital. The rest is in the hand of the management.”
She said the hospital aimed to give options to thousands of Bangladeshis, who are leaving the country everyday to avail of healthcare services abroad.
“We always tell people that we do not decide for our patients. We give options and choices and we assist them to decide for themselves.”
She said when patients come to Apollo they seem to be so lost. “They come to us after spending thousands of taka and visiting many other clinics and hospitals. It is unfortunate that there are not many places where people can get the right information.”
Apollo has six information centres in Chittagong, Sylhet, Bogra, Khulna, Comilla and Mymensingh. People will get any information about any disease and get appointment of the doctors from any of them, Shagufa said.
The mother of two said services at Apollo cost 15 percent less than the hospitals in India and 50 percent less than those in Singapore.
Shagufa, who studied in the UK and Belgium, said Apollo is the country’s only hospital, which has achieved JCI (Joint Commission Accreditation) Gold Seal.
An independent and not-for-profit organisation, the Joint Commission accredits and certifies more than 19,000 healthcare organisations and programmes in the United States.
Shagufa said Apollo is redefining the horizon of healthcare provider in the country. “We have to discipline our healthcare sector by working together. We will not be able to do it alone.”
She said by taking services at Apollo people will learn to demand the same services, discipline and care from other hospitals. Otherwise patients will not go to them. As a result they will lose business.
“If I can raise the yardstick to a certain level then other service providers will also raise their quality of services for the sake of the business. In some way, it is a push to the patient so that all other healthcare providers are also bound to maintain certain standards.”
“The patients are paying for the services, and I am bound to provide the services. It will not do that people will pay without getting services. This scenario has to change.”
In 2010, the hospital recorded a gross profit of Tk 106.5 crore with a net profit of Tk 23.7 crore, and it is growing at about 30 percent annually.
Shagufa said it was not easy to make profit. “It took a lot of efforts.”
She said the country’s entrepreneurs should approach global healthcare specialists and forge a joint venture.
“Good hospitals should be set up to introduce international standard healthcare in Bangladesh. Competition will grow if more good hospitals are set up. As a result, standard will be ensured and patients will have more options to choose from, and prices will go down.”
Shagufa said Dhaka alone can accommodate five hospitals like Apollo because of its big population of over 1.5 crore.
“Instead of good hospitals, we see the mushrooming of diagnostic and consultation chambers. As a result, patients are not getting quality services.”
Shagufa said the cost of healthcare in India is low because there are many players.
She ruled out claims that Apollo charges excessively or its charges are too high. “The city’s top hospitals charge almost the same everywhere. Some of them charge even more than we do.”
She, however, admitted that the top hospitals charge about 10 percent more than their peers in other categories.
Shagufa said as a JCI-accredited hospital, Apollo has to maintain and go through stringent rules. “Business has become tough for us, as we will not be able to earn money just by giving lip services.”
Only five Apollo hospitals have achieved JCI accreditation: Chennai, Delhi, Dhaka, Hyderabad and Kolkata. Apollo Hospitals Dhaka got the recognition in April 2008.
In July this year, Apollo won re-accreditation, as JCI accolade is given for three years. Shagufa said it took a lot of energy to retain the title. “We were scared lest we miss the title. It is a great achievement, but it was quite tough for the hospital to maintain standard.”
The Apollo is going to set up a 300-bed hospital in Chittagong, as the port city accounts for 50 percent of all patients coming to the hospital. “The plan has been approved. We have acquired the land. The hospital’s design is under development. We will be able to start the activities of the hospital soon.”
The group also plans to set up another hospital in Sylhet.
About 120 consultants and nurses from the USA, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines work for the Apollo. Its outpatient hit is about 1,000 every month on average, which were 650 to 1,000 last year.
The hospital operates upon 35 patients every day. So far, three lakh patients have taken services from Apollo.
“The growth is because of reliance. We have earned patients’ trust and reliance,” said Shagufa, who started her career as an employee of a pharmaceutical company and spent 14 years in the sector.
She said the hospital organises patient forum each month, where former patients speak about their experience and expectation. “In that forum, patients talk and we, from our chief executive to consultants to nurses, listen.”

-With The Daily Star input

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