Dr. Devi Shetty has earned well-deserved global recognition for his humanitarian impact,. TIME Magazine named him in their 100 Most Influential list in 2012. His pioneering efforts won him India’s prestigious Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri awards.
29-July-2023 9:43 pm IST, New Delhi
The Revolutionary Surgeon Making Open-Heart Surgery Affordable for Millions
Bangalore, India. In a ultra-modern operating theatre, renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty leans over his patient on the table. His steady hands move with precision as he repairs a life-threatening hole in the heart of 6-day old baby Sameer.
In under two hours, the surgery is successfully completed. Baby Sameer will now go on to live a healthy life thanks to the life-saving procedure. The parents, landless farm laborers, didn't pay a rupee for the operation.
This surgery encapsulates the mission of Dr. Shetty’s trailblazing Narayana Health hospital network. At his “health city” in Bangalore, operations like coronary bypass and pediatric heart surgery are conducted for under $2000 on average. That’s less than 1% of the $150,000 cost in the US!
This affluence of affordability has saved countless lives in India’s underprivileged populations by making elite surgeries accessible to them. So how did Shetty pioneer a model that slashes costs without compromising on quality?
Driven By Empathy
“In my early days as a surgeon, I opened the chest of a little girl but realized her poverty-stricken parents could not afford the surgery,” shares Shetty. “Helpless, I sutured her back up. That girl tragically died. I vowed since that day - no one will lose a life because they cannot pay.”
That defining moment sparked Shetty’s journey to revolutionize heart care delivery. He realized that while skill and technology were important, systemic barriers prevented healthcare access. And like many pioneers before him, empathy became the fuel for innovation.
Economies of Scale
The foundation of Shetty’s “McDonald’s of heart surgery” model is economies of scale. “We perform a very high volume of surgeries - over 15,000 annually - which allows us to divide fixed costs over a large base. That hugely brings down the price per surgery,” he explains.
Centralized facilities, optimized processes, lean management protocols, discounted bulk buys - all contribute to radically lower expenditures. Shetty has also judiciously utilized India’s capabilities - paramedical workers are trained to take over tasks traditionally done by doctors to improve productivity.
While surgeries cost a fraction of global charges, Shetty’s hospitals are financially self-sustaining. The key is his innovative cross-subsidization model. He charges wealthy patients and those with insurance a premium which subsidizes free or discounted treatment for the poor.
“A child’s life should not have a price tag,” states Shetty. “We ask those who can pay to fund the cost of surgeries for children who are unable to afford it.” This socially conscious model aligns with his philosophy - healthcare access is a fundamental right.
Proof in Outcomes
Critics have wondered whether such inexpensive surgery can maintain acceptable clinical standards. “Outcomes matter more than income to us,” asserts Shetty. His results speak for themselves - mortality rates in his hospitals are half the national average.
Narayana Health follows global protocols for procedures, technology and staff qualifications. But costs are slashed not through compromises, but via process improvements. “Our mission is to save lives, not to make the maximum profit.”
Vision for the Future
The group operates a network of over 20 hospitals in India and overseas. However, 69-year old Shetty has no plans to slow down yet. “I want to scale up our model across India and other emerging nations. My aim is to create 30,000 low-cost hospital beds serving the underprivileged.”
His next frontier is to expand affordable heart care across Africa. Pilot projects are underway in Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda.
“Building a hospital is easy, but building an equitable healthcare system is the real challenge,” says Shetty. “Technology and training are key to achieving quality rural access. Telemedicine can support remote diagnosis. Paramedics can be trained for basic procedures.”
Recognition for His Work
For his humanitarian impact, Shetty has earned well-deserved global recognition. TIME Magazine named him in their 100 Most Influential list in 2012. Fittingly, his pioneering efforts won him India’s prestigious Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri awards.
“It’s not the awards, but smiles of patients that matter,” maintains the unassuming surgeon. Shetty is quick to recognize his team’s contributions and shares credit for his accomplishments. “I merely lead a group of highly dedicated surgeons and healthcare workers.”
Legacy of Inspiration
As our meeting concludes, I ask Dr. Shetty about the legacy he wishes to leave. “More than personal recognition, I want the model we have created to inspire healthcare reform across the developing world,” shares the visionary doctor.
“I want future generations to view healthcare not just as clinical service, but as an instrument of social justice. Affordable access to quality care is every human’s right. If we reimagine delivery systems with empathy, much like we innovated in treatments, we can save millions of lives. I hope our work sparks that systemic change.”
And knowing Dr. Devi Shetty, we have no doubt that his revolutionary vision will inspire many more positive disruptions in healthcare for years to come. The world needs more humanistic innovators like him.
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