Lessons from a frugal innovator
Monday, April 20, 2009
ENTER the main cardiac operating-room at Bangalore’s Wockhardt hospital on a typical morning, and you will find a patient on the operating table with a screen hanging between his head and chest. On a recent visit the table was occupied by a middle-aged Indian man whose serene look suggested that he was ready for the operation to come. Asked how he was, he smiled and answered in Kannada that he felt fine. Only when you stand on a stool to look over the screen do you realise that his chest cavity has already been cut open.
As the patient was chatting away, Vivek Jawali and his team had nearly completed his complex heart bypass. Because such “beating heart” surgery causes little pain and does not require general anaesthesia or blood thinners, patients are back on their feet much faster than usual. This approach, pioneered by Wockhardt, an Indian hospital chain, has proved so safe and successful that medical tourists come to Bangalore from all over the world.
This is just one of many innovations in health care that have been devised in India. Its entrepreneurs are channelling the country’s rich technological and medical talent towards frugal approaches that have much to teach the rich world’s bloated health-care systems. Dr Jawali is feted today as a pioneer, but he remembers how Western colleagues ridiculed him for years for advocating his inventive “awake surgery”. He thinks that snub reflects an innate cultural advantage enjoyed by India.