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NEW DELHI : Manipal Hospitals is expanding its footprint across the country with the recent acquisitions of Columbia Asia’s network in India and Vikram Hospital in Bengaluru. In an interview, Dilip Jose, managing director and chief executive officer, Manipal Health Enterprises Pvt. Ltd, spoke about the company’s growth plans, revival of medical revenue travel and key learnings from the covid-19 pandemic. Edited excerpts:

 

What is your strategy for expansion and growth for the next three years?

With the recent acquisitions, our network with 27 facilities and more than 7,600 beds is now present across 15 cities. However, there are several more geographies that we would like to serve. Kerala, where Manipal is a household name because of its deep roots in education, is a state in which we are keen to be present. The eastern part of India is still quite underserved in high-quality healthcare and we would like to explore opportunities there. We would also like to deepen our presence in Maharashtra and the national capital region. With the consolidation phase that the healthcare sector is now witnessing, in part because of the consequences of the pandemic, we are optimistic about brownfield expansions that fit in well with our plans.

Another focus would be to further grow our digital presence. Compulsions of covid have made digital routes to access healthcare more acceptable to both patients and providers. The government has also rapidly put in an enabling regulatory framework along with ambitious programmes such as the national digital health mission. The overall ecosystem is well placed to support new digital initiatives.

What are the challenges you foresee in the brand integration? By when is it likely to be completed?

The brand integration would be completed by mid-November with all our 27 hospitals coming under one umbrella. While the acquisitions were consummated about 6 months ago, we wanted the integration to be a carefully planned and calibrated exercise that takes along all stakeholders, particularly our people. With 4,000 doctors, 11,000 employees and about 5,000 persons on outsourced rolls, we are a 20,000 strong organization. In our minds, the priority was of course the harmonization of the teams, ensuring that there is a meeting of minds, an aligned vision and a clear roadmap ahead that is visible to everyone in the combined organization. We have been able to achieve that and with the unified brand coming in place soon, the integration exercise has been smooth.

What is the expected revenue growth in FY22?

After the second peak of covid during the first quarter and also into the early weeks of the second quarter of this year, the healthcare sector has seen a quick recovery. From almost 90% of all admitted patients being cases of covid, it has tapered down to about 5%. Therefore, the hospitals are now able to cater to the needs of other patients, many of whom were postponing their treatments in the last 18 months. That should help the sector get back to the pre-pandemic growth trajectory, in the range of 15%.

Who are the key investors in Manipal Hospitals? Are you also looking to venture into an initial public offering (IPO) in the near future?

Manipal Hospitals have always attracted marquee investors. Besides the sector itself being an attractive one for investors, the reputation and track record of the promoters as fair and transparent partners have been a key factor. We have TPG, Temasek and NIIF as our investors. While an IPO is an option that is available, we have not yet made any plans around that.

How did covid-19 impact the business and what are the key learnings from the pandemic?

The highest impact in terms of patient footfalls was during the first wave, on account of fear of the virus as it was a novel one and treatment protocols were still not clear. Also, there was no vaccine in sight. This was compounded by the strict lockdown that restricted all travel. That situation, of course, impacted financial performance and the first half of FY21 was a tough period for all hospitals, as indeed it was for all segments of the economy. Since then, with progress made in treatment options as well as significant strides in vaccination, the negatives have eased.

This pandemic is arguably the severest test that healthcare system has faced so far and only the courage and resilience of the frontline clinical teams helped the country weather the storm. Covid also brought the shortcomings in our healthcare infrastructure in much sharper focus and perhaps the silver lining, if one can call it that, is the quick action by the governments at the Centre and in the states to direct much needed investments to correcting that.

Hopefully, the momentum and intent would be sustained and as a country we would be better placed to tackle another pandemic, should that occur. The priority that has been accorded to primary and rural health facilities should help the nation address the adverse skew that our villages and small towns face with respect to both infra and medical talent. There is no reason for us as a country to lag in healthcare systems, as our achievements in telecom, transport and power demonstrate what could be achieved if we collectively make an effort.

What are some of the key initiatives in the pipeline to ensure seamless healthcare delivery among patients from neighbouring countries?

Pre-covid, about 10% of our revenue was from international medical value travel. While this fell to near zero in the early months of the pandemic, with international travel now trickling back, we are seeing a revival of this segment in our hospitals. We had kept in touch with our overseas patients during this period and had encouraged them to take treatment from whichever sources that are available to them, rather than allowing their disease to progress. With medical visas restarting, we are facilitating travel for those who are able to and prioritizing the cases that need urgent attention. We would hope that all the people who had to depend on other countries to access medical care get to do that as soon as possible, particularly as the illnesses for which they travel such long distances are almost always severe and debilitating.

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