Doctor Passionate on Inclusive Healthcare

Doctor Devi Prasad Shetty is one of the leading cardiac surgeons of India and he can be easily regarded as one of the important leaders in India’s healthcare sector too. Born on 8th May 1953, in Kinnigoli village of the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, he went on to achieve world renown through his surgical skills. He has to his credit of  successfully performing the first neonatal heart surgery in India  in 1992, on a 21-day-old baby named Ronnie.

 He is the Chairman and Founder of Bengaluru-based Narayana Health, which has a network comprising 24 hospitals and seven heart centres in its ambit. Narayana Health covers 110+ specialties such as cardiac sciences, cancer care, orthopaedics, neurology, gastroenterology, liver and kidney transplants, etc.

Devi Shetty, who has to his credit of performing over 100,000 heart operations, has some insightful and pragmatic suggestions to address the huge challenge of rampant inaccessibility of affordable and quality healthcare in India. “We realised that just as innovation in medical science is elementary to the growth of healthcare, we need to bring innovation in how we take quality healthcare to everyone,” noted the recipient of the Padma Bhushan award.

Focusing on Health Insurance 

Realising that it is not feasible for government funded universal healthcare in India, he has come up with a pragmatic idea of much more inclusive health insurance  model and talked about the need for affordable health insurance with a premium of Rs. 10,000  per annum, covering primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare. He is in favour of universal health insurance.

“In India, we have 850,000 mobile phone subscribers who spend at least Rs. 150 (2.3 USD) per month just to speak on the phone. If there is a policy that provides them with health insurance for an additional Rs. 20 (0.31 USD), I do not think anyone will mind paying that extra amount. We need to create such a vehicle,” the doctor with  a heart propounded in an interview to Siemens Healthineers some ten years back. Such an idea is very much relevant to address India’s challenges of healthcare in today.

In 2003, Devi Shetty, along with the government of Karnataka, devised a low cost health insurance scheme for the poor farmers of the state of Karnataka, which is named Yeshasvini.

Our state governments(since public health is a state subject) should take inspiration from Devi Shetty’s wise words and actions and introduce universal health insurance for all of the population in their respective states. Our Union government should also help the states to facilitate this endeavour.

Reducing Cost of Healthcare 

Devi Shetty’s approach towards inclusive healthcare was translated in his action of significantly reducing the cost of heart operation in his network of hospitals, through exemplary productivity, cost-efficiency and increasing volume of operations. Some of his simple but elegant ideas for reducing the cost of operations include reducing the cost of scrubs and going for cross ventilation instead of air-conditioning. Devi Shetty intelligently managed medicine and economics to come up with low cost heart surgeries. 

Some time back he pointed out that the cost of healthcare could be reduced by 50 percent in the next 5-10 years if hospitals adhered to the economies of scale. India’s hospitals could take inspiration from Devi Shetty to make healthcare more accessible for the common people by adopting economies of scale in a big way.

He rightly pointed out that countries can reduce the cost of healthcare by increasing the number of healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, technicians, and administrators. Our governments should make a concerted effort to increase the number of medical professionals which will contribute to the accessibility of quality healthcare in India.

The Role of Telemedicine 

Devi Shetty believes in the potent power of technology to democratise healthcare delivery. In a conference in early 2022, he argued that given the pace with which disruption through technology is happening in healthcare in the post Covid scenario, the day was not far when 95 percent of the illnesses would be treated with telemedicine. “As we move with the times, we realise that technology has a huge role in making our services way more efficient. And by its application, way more human as well,” observes the great surgeon in Narayana Health’s website.

He reasoned that  95 percent of the people who were unwell did not need operation and thus they did not require the doctor to have physical contact with them. “If they don’t need operation, I don’t need to touch them. And if I don’t need to touch them, I don’t need to be there – I can be anywhere. I can talk to them, get the data and explain to them what the problem is and I can take the decision,” said Shetty.

India’s medical fraternity and state governments should take heed of Devi Shetty’s wise prediction and invest more on telemedicine to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to more and more numbers of people in the country.

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