Entrepreneurs take rural health calls

Pervez Ahmed has launched Urgent Care, a chain of critical care centers to help stabilise accident and trauma victims.

NEW DELHI: A clutch of entrepreneurs has launched chains of standalone intensive care units, 





cancer care centers and single-doctor clinics in rural areas, seeking to fill some critical gaps in healthcare facilities in the country. Pervez Ahmed, a former chief executive of Max Healthcare, has launched Urgent Care, a chain of critical care centers to help stabilise accident and trauma victims in the first few hours before they can be shifted to a hospital or discharged.

International Oncology, promoted by two US-returned
oncologists, Ashvini Sengar and Madhur Garg, along with their partner Pradeep Jaisingh, is setting up cancer care centers in Tier-II and Tier-III centers. 

Another start-up, Asvas Healthcare, floated by two young entrepreneurs, Venu Madhav Chennupati and Srini Anumanchi, is creating a chain of single-doctor clinics with basic diagnostic services in the villages of Andhra Pradesh that are not being served by qualified clinicians. Urgent Care operates a network of ambulances, promising to reach the spot within five minutes of a call and transfer the patient to either the nearest hospital or one of its own clinics.

The chain has clinics with 11 beds each 
spread over 5,000 square meters and equipped with a minor operation theatre that has a separate corner for children. Each center, designed to handle 140 patients a day, has three or four specially-trained emergency care doctors. "Our services are priced at one-fifth of that charged by corporate hospitals. 

The first two hours are not billed and the patient may have to a pay a maximum of Rs 5,000 for 24 hours, inclusive of food and other services," says Ahmed, who plans 110 such round-the clock centers over the next three-four years with an investment of Rs 129 crore. 

When Jaisingh of International Oncology decided to relocate to India to start his cancer care venture four years ago, he realised that it was cheaper to build his center in the US than in India. So he experimented with a hospital-within-a hospital concept and tied up with 
Fortis Healthcare BSE 3.23 % in Delhi and Dr. LH Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai to leverage their physical infrastructure such as operation theatres, ICUs and equipments to It has now setup seven satellite centers in smaller cities such as Moradabad, Aligarh, Imphal, Thane and Meerut to provide a range of cancer-related services, from prevention and diagnostic to treatment and rehabilitation.

Chennupati, who worked with the 
World Bank after passing out from the University of Michigan, returned to India four years ago. After a stint with the Hyderabad-based Health Management Research Institute, which uses information and communication technology to deliver healthcare services in remote rural locations, he partnered with his colleague Anumanchi to start his first single doctor village clinic six months ago near Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. He is scouting for locations where his clinics can cater to 70,000-80,000 people in 20-30 villages. Asvas will stick to three such clinics in 2013 and fine tune the model before scaling it up in clusters, after which one manager will be able to supervise three-four clinics.

These clinics engage with the local community, specially the sarpanch, advertise on local cable 
networks, create awareness camps in neighbouring villages and tap the pool of local Asha(Accredited Social Health Activists) workers to mobilise patients." One of the biggest challenges we have come across is breaking the monopoly of the RMPs or rural medical practitioners, who are typically quacks or have a diploma in paramedics' stream," says Chennupati. The clinics charge Rs 100 per consultation and Rs 70 for a basic blood test, half the price the villagers are forced to pay in the adjacent city of Kakinada. "Many patients who show up are referral cases, whom we counsel on the options they have both in government and private sector and if the case is serious we call the ambulance," he adds.