The word cancer sends a chill down our spines. The fear around the disease and the painful process of cancer treatment brings a lot of stress to the patients suffering from this disease. Adding to this is the financial burden that a patient has to bear, even with an insurance. Anticipating the costs related to cancer treatment adds to the mental strain and sometimes patients are even unwilling or unable to pay for the treatment that could save their lives. With new therapies and treatment procedures being found for cancer, the expenses still remain. Making cancer care affordable for everyone is very necessary to improve the global health conditions.
Contributing relentlessly to this cause is Healthcare Global Enterprises Ltd. The company has been battling against cancer for years and is today the forerunner in providing cancer care in India through its 20 centers.
We, at Insightscare, bring to you an exclusive interview with the Chairman and CEO of HCG, Dr. BS Ajaikumar. He is dedicated to improving cancer care and is a renowned first generation physician entrepreneur. He has been honored with various awards for his contribution to the industry. This interview encompasses his insights about the company and the industry.
- What was your inspiration behind starting HCG? What has been the journey of HCG since then?
I always had the vision to make a difference in the country through my work. In this regard, I went to the US for higher studies and was fortunate to be enrolled for a residency fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. That is where I learned the ropes of setting up a cancer center and developing partnerships. I started the Bangalore Institute of Oncology (BIO) which was the first private initiative in cancer care. Exploring how oncology shaped in the country, the needs and areas of technological gap and affordability, I put together the hub-and-spoke model for developing HealthCare Global Enterprises Limited (HCG). Since then we have made a huge paradigm shift in cancer care across the country. Presently, we have 28 centers pan India.
- What are the main services that HCG provides? How have they benefitted your patients? Major contributing factors contributed to this success?
HCG has been at the forefront of the fight against cancer. We have a multidisciplinary team of specialists with expertise in specific fields of cancer care. We provide all the treatment modalities like radiation, surgical and medical oncology, under a single roof, which gives us an edge when it comes to customizing treatment options, based on every case. We believe that we must change how we treat cancer and research is the first step to help us do that. We can cite many examples of patients who have benefited from the application of genomics research to their treatment. Instead of a “hit and miss” approach that some doctors use, I look forward to the day when across India, oncologists have the knowledge and technical expertise to treat cancer the right way, the first time. That is my onco-philosophy, and that is how we treat cancer at HCG. It is genomics – an understanding of the genome of a cancer cell and the use of that knowledge to choose the treatment that allows us to have a personalized approach to cancer medicine. Our Hub-and-Spoke model helps us to maintain an integrated approach to cancer care. With our spokes located in Tier 2 and 3 cities, we are successfully able to make the care easily accessible to the patients across the country. Our center of excellence in Bangalore serves as the hub providing access to centralized quality control and assurance services, establishing treatment protocols across the network, providing centralized treatment planning, and tele radiology services, and providing access to advanced technologies and specialized procedures.
- Amongst so many competitors, how has HCG stood tall and differentiated itself from others, all these years?
There were cancer centers run by the governments or trust hospitals and multispecialty hospitals with cancer wing. HCG came in as a private enterprise focusing on hi-end oncology care. By bringing in hub-and-spoke model, creating multiple centers across the country, we made cancer care accessible, affordable and treated the ‘right way first’ with high-quality treatment in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. We have made advanced cancer care a reality for millions of people across the country. And that’s what makes us different from others. Our value-based medicine – chosen as a case study by the Harvard Business Review and the World Bank – has been able to bring down the cost of cancer treatment to almost a tenth of global prices in some cases while achieving the same outcomes.
- Kindly tell us in detail about the transplant services that you provide. How have these helped your patients and the industry?
HCG offers Liver and Bone marrow transplant services. We are the first in Asia to do a bloodless bone marrow transplant for an American 60-year-old patient suffering from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma of mantle cell type in the bone marrow. The patient was not keen on undergoing a blood transfusion. After having undergone chemotherapy at New York, he came for a consultation at HCG as no one was able to help him out with a bloodless transplant. The benefits of this process are that there is no need for donors, fewer chances of spreading infection, reduced cost and no chances of severe diseases that are otherwise possible in blood transfusion. The patient was charged almost US$100,000 (approx. INR 45 lakh), but he only paid around INR 15 lakh at HCG. The right treatment and affordable care make us the go-to hospital for cancer treatment.
- Having stood against cancer for years, how do you think India has progressed in providing better cancer treatment for all? What more needs to be done?
Cancer still is one of the dreaded ailments. We have seen significant changes in the approach of cancer care in the last couple of decades. It has moved from evidence-based medicine to personalized care with the help of improved modalities for treatment leading to better outcomes. The advent of advanced new technologies has changed the way doctors and patients can approach radiation, making it a safer and more effective form of treatment. The use of artificial intelligence – that has taken the healthcare industry by storm helps in improving early detection of breast cancer, and it is helping scientists to predict what combinations of the existing drugs may work in different types of cancer.
- What are various scientific and technological developments in healthcare industry? How do you ensure to stay updated and leverage these to provide better care?
An unparalleled pace of technological advancement has already made inroads in the healthcare sector. Innovations in the digital space have now enabled individuals to remotely monitor heartbeat, blood pressure readings, rate & depth of breathing and a host of other things. Technologies are aiding doctors/physicians in diagnostics and determining the problems.
- What are your major threats and challenges? What has been your strategy to overcome these?
Even though things have improved over the years, in the past, regulatory issues and lack of transparency in the system made it difficult to get the necessary plan approvals and in making sure that the governance in each state is addressed. When it takes 2-3 years to build a single cancer centre, these concerns really hamper our execution of multiple cancer centres across India. Very few people in the world have managed to get it right, including MD Anderson which is a single centre. Getting the right talent was also a challenge that we overcame by making it doctor-centric. We rope in doctors who are not just treating the disease but also show interest in research. Bringing in the necessary technology is a huge motivational factor for these doctors.
- What have been your major accomplishments? Please mention any awards or accolades you have received so far, if any.
We are the first hospital in India to receive the Golden Peacock Award – in Innovation Management. We have bagged the award of ‘The Most Innovative Single Speciality Healthcare Entity’ by VCCIRCLE; won the Frost & Sullivan Oncology ‘Leader of the Year’ 2 times in a row; won ‘Best Health Care Group of The Year’ by BMA. In 2014, we also won the Best Marketing Campaign for SelfV Survivor Stories at the Asian Healthcare Leadership Awards 2014.
- What are your future plans for the company? Where do you see the company in the years to come?
Presently, we have 26 oncology hospitals across the country, and we are coming up with our centers in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata. We are also into multi-specialty and coming up with our fifth center. We feel our fertility chain Milann is rated number one and see significant opportunities to grow. In the near future, we are looking forward to creating a multi-specialty with entrepreneurs.