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A finger on the pulse

When Prathap Chandra Reddy launched the first Apollo Hospital in Chennai in September 1983, advanced healthcare in the country was largely in the government domain. In a new book, Healer: Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy And the Transformation of India, author Pranay Gupte looks at the developments in Indian healthcare through the career of the cardiologist and founder-chairperson of Apollo Hospitals, Dr Reddy.

Several instances in the book give an indication of the state of hospital facilities in the country over the last four decades. For example, Gupte recounts how even as late as the 1980s, Dr Reddy had to personally meet government officials in Delhi to get clearance to buy equipment for Apollo Madras, including the CT scanners that are commonly found in hospitals today.

Gupte has previously authored Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi and Dubai: The Making of a Megapolis, among other titles.

In this section excerpted from the chapter “Uncomplications", Gupte highlights Dr Reddy’s keen understanding of the healthcare sector in India, and his agility in adopting new ideas. Edited excerpts:

Late one evening about five years ago in Chennai, a twenty-six-year-old man named Kishore Manohar heard his phone ring, and answered it.

Healer—Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy And the Transforrmation of India: By Pranay Gupte, Penguin Books India, 548 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>899
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Healer—Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy And the Transforrmation of India: By Pranay Gupte, Penguin Books India, 548 pages, 899

Dr Reddy had called young Kishore in the context of an announcement by the government in 2008 that they were going to offer a two-year tax vacation to hospitals that had more than 100 beds. This was a move to address the woeful shortage of hospital beds across the country, a point that Dr Reddy stressed then, and continues to do so now. Dr Reddy had proposed an innovative model which would take tertiary care to Tier Two and Tier Three cities and non-urban areas and at the same time provide added support to the existing health care system in those places.

‘I came to recognize that it was classic Dr Reddy—always watchful, always sensitive to health care opportunities. The brand was called Apollo Reach Hospitals and my partner Aravindh and I happily worked in our cocoon, along with the inimitable Dr Hariprasad, the CEO of Apollo Hyderabad, developing an identity and a design language. Dr Reddy listened to us each time. He never criticized anything we presented,’ Kishore said.

Spurred by Dr Reddy’s seeming confidence in their work, the two young men went on to develop a comprehensive design manual for the two hospitals being built in Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu and Karimnagar, Hyderabad. Little did they guess that Dr Reddy’s dream was to build not just two but 100 such hospitals across the country. They certainly did not know that the project was to be launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Now Dr Reddy is developing Reach hospitals into one of Apollo’s most ambitious ventures.

The first call that Kishore Manohar had received from Dr Reddy, however, was not for the Apollo Reach Hospitals project. It was to help put together a presentation for various state governments for a unified health care emergency service, after Apollo had discovered that another company had bagged the order for emergency services in Hyderabad.

Working with Dr Reddy elicits amazement on the part of people much younger than him. He’s irrepressibly enthusiastic. One of his favourite sayings is: ‘Medical emergencies don’t have Sundays.’ With Dr Reddy it’s always about being one step ahead of a medical emergency.

That explained Dr Reddy’s concern that the powers-that-be had chosen to go with a non-health care player to provide ambulance services across Andhra Pradesh.

A lot of groundwork was done. Ambulances were lined up. Apollo’s emergency service was rebranded. Dr Reddy went through a lot of trouble to ensure the governments got the true picture of Apollo’s capabilities and intent. But to no avail. One by one he saw state governments looking beyond Apollo’s expertise. Even Tamil Nadu—the Apollo bastion— could not be convinced. For some reason the government decided to choose the other player—a software manufacturer—over the architects of modern India’s health insurance system.

For Dr Reddy, however, it was another day in the office. He responded by bringing in his grandson Harshad Reddy to revitalize the emergency services. And today’s shiny new ambulances with that signature siren and flashing lights resulted from that.

A few years later, while working on the Apollo Children’s Hospital project with Preetha Reddy and Sindoori Reddy (Dr Reddy’s granddaughter and now vice-president of operations at Apollo Children’s Hospital), and looking at versions of the teddy bear mascot, Sindoori almost casually suggested it be called Paws. It was a great name, and it stuck. It was conceived and driven entirely by Preetha Reddy and Sindoori. A year later when Sindoori wanted specific pieces of communication in the Children’s Hospital, she justified her request saying that staffers should always put patients first and that Apollo always should have brand identification.

That is known as uncomplicating things. Which is another way, I suppose, of also finding the mental and emotional resources to get things done the ‘Apollo Way’. And as Dr Reddy defines the ‘Apollo Way’, it’s clear that encouraging young people is part of the Reddy ethos. ‘I owe it to them to share my experience, and to give these young people the right opportunities,’ Dr Reddy told me.

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