BY R.V. RAJAN
“At the age of fifty, when most people start planning to retire, Dr. Prathap Chandra Reddy decided that he was -going to revolutionise health-care in India. In 1993, the renowned cardiologist launched the country’s first professionally-run private sector hospital system.
Thirty years later Apollo Hospitals has become one of the world’s largest providers of high technology health-care.
Apollo today is an industry pioneer and a world leader in areas like heart, liver, bone marrow transplant, and -robotic surgery.”
How this happened is the story titled Healer – Dr. Prathap Chandra Reddy on the Transformation of India by Pranay Gupte (Portfolio Penguin). Pranay Gupte, the -author of several books and a columnist for Newsweek, tells the story based on interviews with hundreds of Dr. Reddy’s friends, relatives, colleagues and others who crossed his path during the course of his career as a cardiologist and as a visionary who built the Apollo group. Healer is a blend of “anecdote, reportage, analysis and narrative.”
Dr. Reddy is from a rich agricultural family in a small village, Aragonda in the Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh, where his -father was the village chief. Born as the fifth child among seven siblings, Dr. Reddy was the first in the family to move out of the village. He came to Chennai to study medicine. He received his M.B.B.S from Stanley Medical College in 1957. In 1963, he went to Britain and later to the U.S.A where he worked in hospitals in Worcester, Massachusetts and Boston before settling in Springfield, Missouri, and gaining a reputation as a heart specialist. Seven years later, he and his family returned to India after receiving a letter from his father “reminding him to come back to India to do his duty to his Desam and Samajam.” He joined HM Hospital in Madras as head of its cardiac -division.
Soon after his return in 1970 he lost both his father and mother and was disturbed that he could not do anything to save their lives. But the real -trigger to start a world class -hospital happened when he lost a 38-year-old patient because the man could not mobilise the resources for a heart bypass -operation in the US.
* * *
What started as a single 150-bed hospital in Madras, inaugurated on September 18, 1983, Apollo has now grown into one of the largest healthcare provi-ders in Asia with over 8500 beds in more than 50 hospitals in -India and abroad. Giani Zail Singh, the then President of -India who inaugurated the -hospital, called it ‘An American hospital in India’.
Among the many firsts that the group can claim, here are a few:
l Apollo was the first corporate hospital in India to list its equity shares on the Madras and Bombay stock -exchanges and later the -National Stock Exchange.
l The first to do a multi–organ transplant in the country.
l The first to have a dedicated Linac-based stereotactic -radio surgery unit outside the USA.
l The first to have a telemedicine facility in the country using satellite technology.
l The first with a PET CT, the 124-slice CT scan.
l Medvarsity Online Limited was the first medical e-learning venture established in India.
Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi became the first hospital in the group (later to be followed by other units) to receive accreditation from the Joint Commission International (JCI), USA -considered a ‘Gold Standard’ in healthcare accreditation.
Other firsts include, introduction of Master Health Check-up as a preventive and disease control measure, ‘Hospital on Wheels’ and ‘Reach’ -hospital concept leveraging technology to make available quality and affordable tertiary health care accessible to BOP individuals in rural areas.
* * *
Dr. Reddy comes across as a visionary, a risk taker, a strict disciplinarian, a transformational character and, above all, as a good, friendly soul who -sincerely believes in the ‘healing touch’ of the doctor with his patients. Whenever he meets a patient in his consulting room or during his rounds of the wards he never fails to put his arm around the patient, giving the patient reassurance that the doctor really cares for him. This ‘making one feel good’ experience has been echoed by not only patients but by many -others who have crossed his path. Any guests visiting Dr. Reddy’s home would have to have something to eat and drink. Even their drivers would receive the same hospitality.
Dr. Reddy always empha-sised that the key ingredient in healthcare is the personal attention and the qualifications of the persons who attend to the patients. Medical colleges and hospitals around the world are taking note of the fact that technology isn’t the only thing that drives success in health-care. “Dr. Reddy and Apollo have practised ‘the high-tech/high touch’ philosophy since Apollo opened in 1983.” Other characteristics of Dr. Reddy which wins people over are his ever-smiling face, his self–assurance and self-confidence. According to B.A. Kothanda-raman (of Vivek’s fame), one of Reddy’s oldest friends, “the -important thing is that his -success hasn’t gone to his head.”
Reddy has also highlighted that while the practice of medicine is at the heart of any hospital, administration and management are key components as well. He often takes time to meet Apollo’s management team and never fails to felicitate them on special occasions such as birthdays.
* * *
One of the biggest achievements of Dr.Reddy has been his ability to persuade hundreds of highly qualified NRI doctors, each a specialist in his field, having very successful practices abroad, to come back to India. He did this by promising them the best technology support, equal to the best available in the world, and a congenial atmosphere with the freedom to -pursue their practice without interferences from the management. And, of course, a good remuneration package. No wonder many of them have continued to be associated with the hospital since its inception. Considered the ‘pillars’ of the system, or ‘Tigers’ as Dr.Reddy likes to refer to them, are big names like Dr M.R. Girinath, Dr. Mathew Kalarickal, Dr. I. Sathyamurthy – all well-known heart specialists – Dr. M.K. Mani, the nephrologist, the late Dr. N. Rangabashyam, a gastrointestinal surgeon, and Dr. Joseph V. Thachil, an urologist.
Reddy is a very spiritual man with implicit faith in God. His favourite deity is Hanuman. He never fails to spend time every day in his puja room and also makes it a point to regularly visit the Krishna, Mariamman temples located inside the Apollo Hospital premises. According to his daughter Preetha, “Daddy gets a lot of strength from the Vedas and the Maha-bha-rata. He meditates for an hour every morning. His goal was better healthcare for India. Other characteristics that Daddy exemplifies: leadership, integrity, strength and -wisdom.”
Dr. Girinath, who has worked closely with Dr. Reddy for over three decades says, “I’ve watched Dr. Reddy develop from a struggling businessman to a corporate giant. It is a story to be studied by anyone who wants to know how knowledge, will power, determination and foresight and intuition can be put to work in the pursuit of an ideal.” Awards inevitably -fol-lowed.
* * *
When asked by Gupta, if he considered himself a visionary, Reddy replied, “Being a ‘visionary’ simply means observing your environment and thinking how you can make a difference…. I believe that each one of us has it within us to become transformational figures.
As I look at my life, I can say truthfully that I did the best that I could do. But that is not enough for me. There is more to be done – much, much more. I feel blessed by the continuity that my four daughters and their children and the Apollo family offer for Apollo. They are the standard bearers of our brand. They are the keepers of my legacy and they will all -become leaders in their own right. Can a man in my place expect anything more of his family?”
Healer tells Dr. Reddy’s -inspirational story like it has never been told before.
Footnote: Outside the Apollo world, horse racing and card games are Reddy’s passions.