Ramdas Shenoy Speaks to Kiran on the challenges and views of running a successful healthcare venture.
How is fertility issue a challenge in India (when we are talking about the 2nd most populous nation)?
Across the world, starting a family and having a child is one the most cherished moments and a milestone in a couple’s life. Even more so in India, where the culture emphasizes the importance of a family.
About 9-10 years ago, 1 in 9 couples suffered with some degree of infertility. Recent WHO report shows that I in 4 couples face difficulty in conception.
It may sound counter intuitive, but with the Indian population demographic of more than 65% of people being under 35 – infertility is a much bigger challenge than what is being currently estimated.
A country like India is defined by its people and their desires, hopes and aspirations, and one of the most important needs is to have a child.
How has been your journey when you started this venture?
It has been 10 years since I started the venture and it has been an enriching journey with plenty of learning as well as unlearning involved.
I am a first-generation entrepreneur and had no experience of starting or running a business. It was a challenge initially to navigate through the hurdles of setting up a company from scratch in India, after a 10 year stint in a very different corporate life in London. I was getting plenty of conflicting advice on what to do and what not to.
It was a humbling experience, bootstrapping the venture, discussing and convincing officials in a public sector bank to give us the seed loan to start the venture. Ultimately, securing the loan from the public sector bank to start my company was far a more satisfactory outcome, and formed the building blocks for the company.
What is critical in running a healthcare business?
A healthcare services business has its unique set of challenges, especially in a single specialty format spanning across different geographies.
If I have to condense the critical aspects,
- Definition of DNA of the organization with utmost clarity. The values that we have defined at the beginning of starting Oasis are the same ones we consistently stick by.
- Identifying and prioritizing the stake holders – Patients, Patients, Patients, Employees, Doctors, shareholders and then the promoters. In that order. Period. With the relentless and often boring emphasis at all times on putting the patient first at the centre of the journey – everything else will follow. In the long term this will build the necessary trust and make the organization a formidable brand.
- It is an operations intensive services business; therefore, it needs to be a people first organization. Having a committed team with good level of emotional intelligence is critical. If the medical professionals, paramedics and operation teams are aligned and work as a team – it can result in an outstanding experience for the patient. While this looks common sensical, this is easier said than done in healthcare organizations. Continuous reinforcement thought training in process and teamwork is necessary.
Over the last decade we have seen a significant improvement and progress in the healthcare sector. In this age of information, patients are much aware and appreciative of the evidence based nature of medicine, the processes, brand and the overall offering by a team of professionals as opposed to having only a doctor as their touch point.
How do you differentiate from other clinics that are mushrooming across the country?
It is easier to say that we are different because of our quality of treatments, service etc, etc but these are overused words with limited meaning towards explanation.
Ultimately, patients and the doctors who have had direct experience interacting with us are our biggest brand ambassadors.
Therefore, the differentiation has been more of an outcome of the work that we had put in to give the patients, rather than an conscious effort to be different. A few interventions in this respect among others are as below:
- In terms of patient experience, we have a very deep engagement and feedback mechanism both from the patients and the referring doctors, and continuously work to improve and measure our service levels. We have developed a strong tech platform and we leverage that for the communication and process improvements.
- Striving for excellence and continuous improvement in the medical protocols. The medical experts and the scientists regularly conduct and participate in both national and international conferences and continuous medical education programs (CMEs) to be on top of the advancements that are happening in the field of reproductive medicine. There are regular abstracts and white papers submitted by the scientists and medical experts.
- We have a significant investment in innovation, research and training – and built a centre of excellence. Infact, a Oasis gets a significant amount of complex cases where the patients are referred from other fertility centres.
- We have invested in a stand-alone training facility where we have nationally accredited courses, post graduate programs and super speciality programs for doctors and scientists. We do this in collaboration with academia and other global experts and help them upgrade their skills. This is a completely separate division within the Oasis platform and it has its own dedicated leader and a team.
At Oasis Fertility our objective is not necessarily be the market leader in this speciality, but we want to be the most respected and trusted institution in this segment in India.
While we have the expertise, the trust and culture takes time to build – and it has taken about 10 years to the most recognized brands pan India for fertility treatments.
Any incident/ story at Oasis Fertility which has given you a sense of achievement?
If there is a feeling of achievement, the consequence can be complacency, so I would say have been many events during the past decade that have given me a sense of satisfaction.
One of the most recent events that I can recall is the announcement of the lockdown at the Covid time.
All the teams went into “virtual” huddles at these times, and following were done
- The leaders in the organization recorded video messages that were internally communicated to all in the team for confidence, assurance and job security.
- The medical team had extensive sessions to define safety protocols, SOPs and training modules which became the guideline and document in the fertility industry.
- The scientific teams worked on research creating research papers and abstracts and more than 20 of them have been accepted in the international industry bodies – which is the largest in Asia for this year.
- The ops team had put in an extremely coordinated effort to pause the treatments of the existing patients.
- The marketing and comms team worked along with the tech team to launch tele consultation in a record time of 2 days,
- The HR created training modules to keep the employees engaged and upskill themselves.
All of these were done by their own initiative with minimal intervention and direction from the leadership. In a pre-covid scenario accomplishing these could have taken atleast an year. While this has been one of the most challenging times, it has made us a more lean, agile and efficient organization.
There’s been a recent whatsapp message doing the rounds of an excellent article by Prakash Iyer called the “The bridge on the river Choluteca” . The essence of that is that previously the popular mantra for an organization was “Build to Last” and a more relevant one in the current times is to “Build to Adapt”, and I am glad we have been proven to be both of the above.
There is a sense of satisfaction that we have been successful in building a culture of committed self-starters in Oasis who derive meaning in their work. And I need to play a limited role of an enabler and create an environment where people can have a good time at in their work lives and continue doing what they do best – help couples achieve this wonderful bond called family.
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