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Low-cost healthcare takes tech route to scale up

The Financial Express

After offering high-quality and affordable healthcare to millions of people, pioneers like Narayana Hrudayalaya, Aravind Eye Hospitals, Sankara Nethralaya and LifeSpring Hospitals are moving up the technology curve to expand their reach, improve services and make themselves more affordable.

Bengaluru’s Narayana Hrudayalaya is venturing into mHealth, Madurai’s Aravind Eye Hospitals group is deploying Geographical Information Systems and Google Maps, Chennai’s Sankara Nethralaya is researching stem cell therapy and Secunderabad’s LifeSpring Hospitals group is making the most of open source technology. All this while continuing to offer treatment at differential tariffs to patients depending upon their paying capacities, which includes treating those without resources free of cost. Apart from cross-subsidising their expenditure, some hospitals also accept donations.

In Chennai, Sankara Nethralaya is conducting research in two broad areas. While operational research focuses on improving what they are already doing, a 10-storeyed block accommodates all major basic science labs, including those researching stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for corneal blindness. Besides, the hospital is a leader in teleophthalmology, which is a favourite initiative of founder Dr SS Badrinath, who is now chairman-emeritus. The institute runs two vans that go to villages where optometrists examine and photograph patients. The pictures are screened by an ophthalmologist in the main hospital and prescriptions written. If patients need further investigation, they are called to the main hospital. The aim is to keep the costs down for the patient as well as the hospital.

On an average, the hospital treats 1,500 patients per day. It has branches in Kolkata and Bengaluru. Says Dr Lingam Gopal, a former chairman, Sankara Nethralaya and now director, Research, Vision Research Foundation at the hospital: “It’s not easy to offer the highest quality of healthcare in an affordable manner, including free treatment to the needy, but the concept has generated tremendous goodwill in the society and helped us raise financial resources.”

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