There are a few obvious facts that everyone knows about Dr. Shamsheer Vayalil Parambath. He's quite a young man, and he's an undisputed success in the UAE for-profit healthcare space. He has been distinguished many times over the years for his company's rapid expansion and brand proliferation, his application of commercial innovation, for championing the spirit of entrepreneurship, and also for several CSR campaigns that highlighted various VPS Healthcare Group endeavors while at the same time contribute to the betterment of societal health and welfare. He's the son-in-law of one of the UAE's foremost Indian business leaders, Mr. Yusuffali M.A., and at just 38 years of age, he has already cemented his foothold in the GCC with both a personal brand (check out his Facebook fan page), and a professional one. Dr. Shamsheer is also known to make his pet causes and opinions public knowledge, using his social media channels to convey his beliefs and promote things both inside and outside the healthcare arena, like his recent championing of voting rights for Indian expats.
The entrepreneur practiced medicine in Abu Dhabi for a year before going solo, and has then been able to surge forward with what is now a conglomerate of synergistic commercial ventures that are able to cycle customers effectively between them. The first LifeLine Hospital opened in 2007, and since then, Dr. Shamsheer has expanded his medical businesses to include close cousins like out-of-hospital care and medical event services, and further sub-businesses like the manufacture and sale of pharmaceuticals. Once Dr. Shamsheer gained a foothold in the UAE, the GCC then became fair game- he has since expanded his own brands and done a great job of marketing them, and he's also waded into the franchise import pool by gaining the rights to The Medicine Shoppe as its master franchiser.
His flagship brand, VPS Healthcare, makes great use of the Internet and they also advertise in a variety of mediums- their ads present emotional touch points with mass audience appeal, and gently ease the reader –all potential clients- into the less-warm medical side of things. The Group's portfolio brands demonstrate a good web presence with user-friendly sites that potential clients find packed with simple and straightforward information. The latter is especially important in the healthcare business, as customers are already wary; due to the sensitive, intimate and discrete nature of illnesses, marketing for medical facilities must also be able to demystify a procedure for someone seeking treatment. All of these factors have helped VPS Healthcare's brands become trusted and established, subsequently paving the way for more brands in spheres that cross over with his existing businesses.
"My concept is simple yet effective," he says. "At the core are three main features. First, to provide cost-effective yet specialized and superior quality healthcare services, complemented by personalized care and individual attention to each patient with an unparalleled passion and commitment to serve the medical needs of the growing population. Second, establishing a comprehensive healthcare network to enable a sustainable referral system. And, third, to have a strong CSR program to give our thanks back to those in the community who require some additional help in their lives."
When asked about the crowded nature of the healthcare industry, Dr. Shamsheer notes that a saturated market doesn't necessarily mean a closed market, and instead says that young entrepreneurs can get motivated to establish businesses in fiercely competitive markets by thinking things through: "There are competitors in almost every market, and healthcare is not an exception. Most of the competition has been with the public sector and other private providers who have been in the market for decades. Competition to us is a challenge to make us stronger. Opportunities are always available, you need to differentiate and constantly innovate with fresh mind." And how well is VPS Healthcare doing in the market? "Our benchmark EBITA [earnings before interest, taxes and amortization] for hospitals are above industrial average due to loyal customer base which has been nurtured since inception. Additionally, our margins are slightly higher due to cost efficiency. In order to maintain profit, private players like us have to provide the best quality, service delivery, and increase efficiency."
Dr. Shamsheer says that three of his personal strengths related to his work are persistence, patience, and the ability to delegate effectively, but that also entails having a team that he can rely on. "I'm personally involved in the selection of senior level executives, and I'm always approachable to my team." He is a big believer in how an organization can be shaped by its employees, and that investing energy and resources into those employees pays for itself: "The people in any business will make the difference between success and failure. They are the ones that add value, drive growth and create innovation. Mentoring people at VPS Healthcare is regular affair and part of our culture; we are a very young organization, almost seven years-old, and we have enough examples of people working with us who have grown significantly from entry level position to heading one or multiple units as director."
That doesn't mean you need to pull off a kamikaze work routine to get ahead- he's a big proponent of work-life balance, and says he ensures that it's encouraged across the Group's ranks. "Our organization currently is at very rapid mode of expansion in healthcare space and aims to achieve bed capacity of 5000 in the next five years. Each project of VPS Healthcare is important to us, however my personal focus is to uplift the standard of tertiary care in the country to make difference in the lives of people."
Making a difference in the lives of people doesn't just mean that of their clients and commercial partners; it extends to his management style with an emphasis on fostering staff growth, hence developing a culture of company loyalty. "VPS Healthcare is diversified group with healthcare as our main stream of portfolio. My personal attention is always on development of the people. To stay ahead in global economic environment, challenges are to develop and retain professional team and ultimately striking a perfect balance between responsible business ownership and professional management." Dr. Shamsheer says that he strives for excellence following a "dual strategy that includes bringing [onboard] the best people from the industry and empowering them, and recruiting a young and talented workforce in different disciplines, training and developing them under strong leadership to take care of future expansion."
Currently, VPS Healthcare has eleven hospitals operating, and a slew of medical centers. "Our current growth rate is better than industry average, and going at our current speed, we will definitely cross US$1 billion in next year," says Dr. Shamsheer, when discussing VPS Healthcare's commercial aim for 2015. Crossing the billion-dollar threshold, taking into consideration that Dr. Shamsheer only launched his first endeavor just under eight years ago, is super significant. In terms of allocating resources to facilitate growth, he says that taking into consideration the constant advancements in medicine and technology, deciding where to allocate expansion resources is a two-tier method: "One of the prime factors is to achieve the best outcome for patients using advancement of technology, and keeping in view our expansion plans, we follow a multidisciplinary approach in decision-making. Human capital is one of the biggest assets at VPS Healthcare, and we are maintaining the right balance of human capital and technology while allocating resources. Our endeavor is to provide world class technology to the medical team, and constantly update them to deliver the best."
There is also room for more, says Dr. Shamsheer. He considers VPS Healthcare's research and development (R&D) arm unexplored, and they're already looking at how to tackle it. "I feel our R&D is underdeveloped. Investment in R&D will allow us a deeper understanding of the Arab genome, genetic variants that contribute to the health of the Arab population. We have already created a roadmap in this direction." According to the Managing Director, some of the other challenges faced by the healthcare industry in the UAE include developing and providing healthcare services for the growing population of senior citizens, and quality staff recruitment and retention.
Some of the boons of basing your healthcare business in UAE? "The government support and backing, and quick clearance of licensing, allow us to grow faster and stay competitive in global healthcare arena. Recent clearance from the government about visa on arrival for medical treatment is just one of the examples of government initiative to boost the healthcare sector," explains Dr. Shamsheer. The Global Health Observatory Data Repository (GHO) of the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the private expenditure on health as a percentage of total expenditure on health was 30.5% in 2011, increasing to 32.3% in 2012 including "voluntary pooled insurance for health insurance as well as direct payments by private agents." The total UAE expenditure on health as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 3.1% in 2011 and dropped slightly to 2.8% in 2012; UAE's GDP as of 2012 was $383.8 billion according to the World Bank.
Putting this in perspective, the GHO reports that Switzerland's percentages for the same measure were 11.0% and 11.3% with a GDP of $631.2 billion (World Bank), and for a regional comparison, KSA's percentages for the same years and same measure were 3.0% and 3.2% with a 2012 GDP of $734 billion. The UAE's general government expenditure on health as a percentage of total government expenditure remained stable for four years from 2009 to 2012 at 9.3%. "UAE stands amongst the top 25 in world health systems ranking by WHO, and the government is very supportive to the private players for creating the best healthcare delivery system. Due to the mandatory insurance standard, the Emirates are on par with the best in the world," adds Dr. Shamsheer.
It also means that there is nowhere to go but up for entrepreneurs in the healthcare space, and those who have businesses that cross over with healthcare, including logistics and construction. "United Arab Emirates is one of the most developed economies in the world with a cosmopolitan mix of people coming from all parts of the globe. Overall, the UAE economy has been performing well, and delivery of healthcare in the MENA region and around the world continues to evolve. Medical standards at VPS Healthcare are at par with [the] global benchmark, however we have already started our work to strengthen the talent pool and increase capacity.
Expo 2020 is great opportunity for everyone, and the healthcare sector in particular will witness increase in demand for quality healthcare services due to the influx of worldwide tourists." On the subject of medical tourism, it's important to remember how reputation (and yes, advertising), can help healthcare institutions cross important financial markers. Patients Without Borders estimates that the "worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15-25%, with rates highest in North, Southeast and South Asia," and lists the top destinations as "Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, [and the] United States." VPS Healthcare is making itself known globally, and could very well help to get the UAE included in the top medical tourism country list.
Recently, Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery (BHAS), part of the VPS Healthcare Group was awarded "Specialty Hospital of the Year" at the ninth annual World Medical Tourism Congress. "It's the leading international congress in health and medical tourism attracting healthcare professionals across the world, and the award recognizes the efforts of BHAS for providing exemplary care, innovation consistent with vision of medical tourism, and advocating for high quality healthcare in the region. In short span of time, BHAS has been the trendsetter in Middle East by offering advanced orthopedic surgery and sports medicine using international medical expertise and cutting-edge technology."
The UAE's diverse population, a phenomenon echoed across much of the GCC, means that the healthcare industry is catering to very different need-scenarios, almost on a case-by-case basis- straining corporate systems and procedural development and implementation. "Since we are an integrated service, we can provide healthcare requirements specific to the areas in which we operate to meet the expectations of the users. Our service lines enable us to refer from any of our facilities to a higher level of care- for example from primary care or emergency to secondary or from secondary care to tertiary care."
Dr. Shamsheer adds that a spectrum of patients are catered to by VPS Healthcare institutions, and the budget of these same patients runs the gamut and is dealt with accordingly. Going forward, taking customer budgets into consideration is definitely important, but for-profit healthcare providers will need to consider populace trends and origins when developing programs, and even when building new facilities. If VPS Healthcare's current on-trend brands are any indicator, it looks as though they'll continue to gain traction by acting as the supplier for ever-shifting market demands.
Dr. Shamsheer sees Microsoft founder Bill Gates as a great example of entrepreneur who also leads as a philanthropist. Much of the doctor's energies are devoted to give-back community initiatives centering around health and wellness: education on preventative measures, actionable medical drives that engage the community, and public relations campaigns that create an inclusive environment to demystify illness.
"We have leadership team to take care of various aspects of business, however, my focus has always been to return back to society by devoting my time, energy and resources for welfare of the community through various CSR initiatives. Community awareness is our capital asset and our vision is to create sustainable community welfare model. We have done several CSR activities for different strata of the community such as free heart surgeries, free mobile mammography operations for needy patients, and recently VPS Healthcare has established a Guinness World Record for largest simultaneous self-examination to raise awareness for breast cancer."
Sheikh Khalifa Excellence Award 2014
Window of Opportunity 2015
The World Bank puts UAE life expectancy rate at 77 years of age, meaning that elderly medical care is another solid and lucrative form of revenue, as is the yet relatively nascent area of palliative care (PC). The conversation in the GCC about palliative care has thus far focused on the need to provide the comfort and elevate quality of life for patients in need of PC, but a gradual shift towards profitable opportunity is on the horizon. Middle East Experience in Palliative Care, an article published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine in February 2013, reports that Saudi Arabia's healthcare industry was the first in the GCC to offer PC to patients as early as 1992, and presently, while it is offered in the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain, it is still largely misunderstood by residents.
The article mentions that when PC was first introduced, admittance rates increased based on medical professionals educating and then referring patients to facilities. The same article mentions that the healthcare industry in the UAE faces a specific challenge- in this instance referencing PC specifically: "End-of-life problems of expatriate patients with cancer are very different from those of Emirati nationals, with expatriates having limited social and emotional support owing to the living statuses and the low incomes. There is a need to study the social and psychological issues in the expatriate patients with cancer in UAE."