What then should a hospital do to stand out among dozens cropping up across the country?
Doctors with foreign education alone wouldn't do. For, they were a dime a dozen and each big hospital had battalions of them.
Prathap C Reddy, founder-chairman of Apollo Hospitals Group, had the answer: an international accreditation for the hospital group. A collective recognition.
The idea dawned on him in 2005, the year in which Apollo Hospitals secured an accreditation from the US-based Joint Commission International (JCI).
Things were never the same. Now, more and more hospitals are following in the footsteps of Apollo Hospitals to maintain international standards in health care to attract foreign patients and strike global collaborations.
Also, with most international insurance agencies considering international certifications as a pre-requisite for tie-ups, the trend has caught on, and it's strictly business.
But again, getting that global badge of honour is no mean task.
There are 1,033 measurable elements that need to be adhered to, some of which were alien to the Indian hospital industry in 2005. Proper training, safe disposal norms, education on patient's rights, etc, were some of the areas that had to be taken care of.
The first step
On June 18, 2005, six months after filing an application, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, received the first JCI accreditation in the country.
This accreditation made it easier for the group to formulate strategies for other hospitals under the banner. By March 2007, it won JCI accreditation for its Chennai, Hyderabad and Ludhiana hospitals as well. The initial investment for the international accreditation paid off well for Apollo Hospitals, which saw improved revenue and margins post certification.
The hospital witnessed an increase in the utilisation of medical service by international patients. The foreign patient in-flow doubled and is now 10 per cent of all admissions in the hospital.
Making a place in the global market with this international certification, the hospital's stocks also went up, although the exchange did not attribute the rise to the certification, said Sunita Reddy, executive director, finance, Apollo Hospitals Group.
Since 2005, eight other hospitals in the country have received JCI accreditation and there are many more awaiting certification.
The ones with JCI have witnessed a financial growth and also reported increase in patient inflow.
Dr Ramakanta Panda, vice-chairman and MD, Asian Heart Hospital, Mumbai, said: "The JCI accreditation process helped our hospital get the systems in place and cut costs."
Vishal Bali, CEO, Wockhardt Hospitals Group, said since Indian healthcare is moving towards globalisation, international accreditations help in maintaining global standards in quality.
The Wockhardt Group is now in the process of securing JCI accreditation for its Bangalore facility. Studies have shown that the medical tourism market in India is growing at 30 per cent and the foreign patient traffic has increased in the past few years.
International insurance agencies are also looking at such certified hospitals in countries like India. Shroff Eye Hospital, Mumbai, the only internationally accredited eye care centre in the country, has also seen an increase in the international enquiries. Based on the JCI stamp, the hospital was also able to tie up with a UK-based insurance agency.
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