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CEO of This Renowned Hospital Chain Once Wanted To Be A Thespian Healthcare is perceived as an industry today - it's no longer a social service, says this veteran doctor

By Sneha Banerjee

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Columbia Asia Hospital

A fourth generation doctor in his family, Dr. Nandakumar Jairam knew at a very early age that he, too, would join the medical profession. Dr Jairam is currently the Chairman, CEO and Group Medical Director for Columbia Asia Hospitals in India.

Till recently Dr Jairam was also a consultant colorectal and general surgery for Columbia Asia. He has also set up a self-help group for Ostomy patients. He was the Vice-President of Ostomates, India, till 2007. From 1996 to 1998 he was the Medical Director of Mallya Hospital, Bangalore.

Dr. Jairam spoke to the Entrepreneur India at length about his journey first as a doctor and then as a leader. In course of the conversation, he expressed concerns about the present neglected state of affairs in the healthcare space in India and revealed one of his secret ambitions of the past.

"If Given A Choice, I Would Have Loved To Be Thespian"

Looking back, Dr. Jairam now feels that today's generation has plenty of career options to choose from — a luxury that he did not enjoy when he was young.

Fine arts and management courses were not in vogue those days. "If given a choice I would have loved to do theatre," and he announced with conviction that he would be good at it.

Talking about his journey through the various phases in the healthcare space, Dr. Jairam said, "Healthcare facilities in India were provided by charitable and religious institutions in the past. They regarded it as a charitable service. However, today we have graduated from that era and corporate healthcare has emerged. Corporate healthcare is made to function like an industry in the way healthcare services are delivered. It is no longer a social service," he opined.

"I have been a witness to this transition and have moved from one phase to another. Owners of private hospitals today have to think about profitability of their medical facilities — no scope to offer services for free," he said, adding charges could be only be waived for a small, underprivileged segment.

He also stressed on the need to monitor private hospitals to promote transparency and completely eradicate unethical practices.

The Burgeoning Skill-Gap In The Sector

Addressing concerns over the alarming rise in healthcare costs in the country, Dr. Jairam said, "It is very important to realize that we should not overcharge patients. Hospitals should charge judiciously, in accordance with the treatment they have offered."

Having spent decades in the medical sector, Dr. Jairam admitted that India continued to grapple with several challenges in this domain. Some of the major challenges include increasing trust deficit among patients, doctors and hospitals and the absence of skilled manpower.

India has seen a rise in the number of medical colleges, but it takes at least 10-15 years for a doctor to become professionally matured, the veteran doctor explained, adding most of these colleges have opened recently.

"So, the gap will remain for the next 10-15 years and by that time the population would also grow and so would the need. The duration of skill gap will last longer than what can be estimated now," he added.

He firmly asserted on the need for greater transparency and accountability on the part of healthcare operators, irrespective of whether the patient can pay for it or not.

"Technology Is The Next Big Thing In Healthcare"

According to Dr. Jairam, there is tremendous opportunity for innovation in technology in the space. Managing health records and developing telemedicine procedures and reaching out to patients in far flung areas need an advanced technological booster. Practices like automation of BP check-up, disbursing health care information among public using digital media should be introduced.

"Technology is definitely the next big thing in healthcare, definitely for India and globally for sure," he added.

Columbia Asia is owned by US-based investment fund International Columbia USA LLC. It started operations in 1996 and currently has 28 medical facilities across Asia — 11 in Malaysia, 11 in India, three in Vietnam and three in Indonesia. The first hospital in India commenced operations in 2005 in Hebbal, Bangalore, and currently the chain runs 11 facilities in the country.

Sneha Banerjee

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Staff, Entrepreneur India

She used to write for Entrepreneur India from Bangalore and other cities in South India. 

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