A blanket of silence and white envelopes you as you make your way to Dr. Prathap Chandra Reddy's chambers perched atop the main building of the bustling Apollo Health City campus in Hyderabad.
It's difficult to fathom that the Apollo Hospitals group founder-chairman is pushing 80; his energy levels make him appear at least a decade younger. But then, the healthcare baron surely knows how to keep himself in good health-a daily regimen of meditation, brisk walk and that absolutely essential weekly swim routine-even as he continues to perfect his hospital enterprise.
It was incidentally this interest in health that sowed the seeds of Apollo Hospitals 32 years ago in 1983, when he helplessly watched a young patient die of a cardiac condition.
The cardiologist chucked a flourishing practice abroad to come back to India, and pioneered the concept of private modern healthcare in the country when he set up the first Apollo Hospital in Chennai.
Today, the Rs 2000-crore healthcare giant not only boasts of 53 hospitals with around 8,234 beds, straddling the Indian subcontinent and other parts of the world, but also healthcare insurance with Apollo Munich health insurance, Apollo clinics and pharmacies, stemcell research and healthcare outsourcing services with Apollo Health Street. Recently, it also forayed into telecom with Aircel, where the Reddy family holds a 26% stake and Maxis Communications Berhad of Malaysia the remaining 74%.
Many years and several innovations later, Dr Reddy is very modest about his achievements. "I think I have just done 0.0001% of the country's requirement in healthcare. But there is 99% satisfaction that we have done something".
Today, he is focusing on preventive healthcare and the innovative use of new technology to further the cause of healthcare in the country. Yet he's still hungry for more. ""I think we can do another 50 hospitals in the next five years.
"We have over 200 telemedicine centres in India and 52 in African countries connected to us. Our plan is to ramp it up fast and try and connect with several small hospitals that cannot handle acute emergencies so that they can have the benefit of our expert advice. We also want to connect all primary health clinics in villages and private nursing homes through a project called 'Health Highway' with live telemedicine connectivity so that patients can go for teleconsultation and don't have to all the way from the village to the hospital in the city,"" he explains.
But the bigger problem, he feels, is adequately trained manpower. ""We train about 500 superspecialists and I have 13 nursing colleges. I must double that number. I don't take undergrads so I need undergrad colleges. In the next five years our goal is to train 40,000 people," he says matter-of-factly.
According to him, the country needs over 100,000 hospital beds over the next 10 years to bridge the existing gap in healthcare facilities along with adequate manpower to man these hospitals. "We need to double the number of doctors from 7 lakh to 1.7 million, treble the number of nurses from 8 lakh to 2.7 million and quadruple the number of paramedics," he says.
And all this can happen, he feels, only when the government gives priority or infrastructure status to healthcare, which will give the sector access to long-term funding. He also dreams of setting up a global health city in the country, for which he is looking for 500 to 1,000 acres of land in Karnataka or Maharashtra. ""My dream is to make India a global healthcare hub"".
Ask him about his succession plans and pat comes the reply;"I have not written a will but my four daughters will succeed me. All of them are excellent and they are each playing different roles. Though they live in four different families they are one and have a great understanding," he says. Dr.Reddy's daughters Preetha Reddy, Sunitha Reddy, Shobhana Kamineni and Sangeetha Reddy already handle various aspects of the business.