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Covid, a game-changer for digital health in India: Fortis Healthcare CEO

Monika Yadav New Delhi | Updated on October 17, 2021

Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, MD and CEO of Fortis Healthcare speaks on the company’s capex plans, non-Covid business performance, and preparation for the likely third wave

Covid has been a game-changer for digital health in India, and with the launch of the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) by the government in 2020, the digital agenda is moving to the next level through health information exchange, harmonious sharing of data, adoption of open standards, and a national health information network, according to Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, Managing Director and CEO of Fortis Healthcare. In an interaction with the BusinessLine, he threw light on the company’s capex plans, non-Covid business performance, and preparation for the likely third wave, among others. Excerpts:

Now that Covid cases have declined, has the non-Covid businesscome back to normal?

The non-Covid business has recovered since June, but it will take some more time to come back to pre-Covid levels. We have resumed elective surgeries, and treatment of other non-Covid ailments is almost in full swing.

Patients have started their treatments. We are seeing a gradual increase in month on-month non-Covid occupancy from 30 per cent in May to 47 per cent in June. If there is no third wave, we expect the momentum to continue, allowing the business to return to near normal in the next 12-15 months.

What is the capex plan for the current fiscal and upcoming year?

This year and next, we will continue to focus on better working capital management, availability of bank funding, and a gradual improvement in business momentum. Our concentrated efforts would be on revenue growth, building our franchise in catchment areas, engaging with key corporate clients, strengthening community connect, and leveraging our digital platforms.

Our core specialities – cardiology, neurology, oncology, nephrology, orthopaedics, gastroenterology and pulmonology – will be strengthened further through latest technology, new investments and onboarding of senior clinicians. Some of the growth and investment plans, which are currently underway, include an addition of 1,300 beds over the next 3-4 years in select facilities such as Shalimar Bagh, Noida, FMRI Gurgaon, Mulund, Mohali, and Anandpur.

For SRL, the focus will be on strengthening capacity in Covid testing, recovery and growth in non-Covid revenue streams, network expansion, digital initiatives, growing our business in the reference laboratory segment through Next Generation Diagnostics, and improving market share across the cities we operate in.

Digitisation has still not found widespread acceptance in healthcare. What are the main reasons for it? Does it need govt intervention?

I don’t agree, I believe digitisation has increased several folds in the last 18 months. Covid has been a game-changer for digital health, and with the government launching the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) in 2020, the digital agenda is moving to the next level through health information exchange, harmonious sharing of data, adoption of open standards, and a national health information network.

Many healthcare businesses adapted quickly to the emerging developments. When the Covid outbreak happened in India, Fortis Healthcare was among the first hospital chains to introduce telemedicine services across 23 centers. We have seen a significant increase in tele-consultation for many specialities.

We used technology to the maximum for working, connecting, coordinating with all regions, communication outreach and medical education sessions. Virtual connect and e-consultation helped our clinicians stay in touch with patients, something which was not done widely before. Yes, some doctors and patients took time to get comfortable with the digital process, but adapted to it soon.

However, it’s true that not all the diseases can be checked virtually; physical visits are needed for treatment and essential services such as chemotherapy, dialysis or deliveries. Overall, tele-medicine has a very bright future in India.

If the third wave happens, is Fortis prepared to deal with the upsurge in cases in terms of ventilators, beds and medicines?

With the experience of the previous two waves, we are now capable of quickly repurposing areas from one side to the other. Apart from beds, we have started scaling up the required infrastructure for any successive waves.

We had planned to put up oxygen plants in 15 of our hospitals, among which, eight are already in place, and the rest will happen in the next three to four months.

Published on October 17, 2021

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