Imagine a team of doctors, nurses and technical staff flying to the United Kingdom, performing 100-odd knee surgeries over a month and coming back to India to take care of patients back home.
Well, this may just turn into reality if Fortis Healthcare's plans materialise. The 700-bed multi-speciality healthcare centre with hospitals in Mohali (Chandigarh) and Noida (Uttar Pradesh) is talking to leading hospitals in the UK to be technical partners. That's not all: Fortis Healthcare is also actively looking at providing remote radiology and diagnostic centres for some of these hospitals.
Fortis has ambitious plans to become a 4,000-odd bed hospital by 2011. Currently, it has 700 beds spread over Mohali, Noida and Amritsar, and is starting work on another 500-bed hospital in Delhi's Shalimar Bagh.
"The biggest private healthcare centre in the UK, BMI, has 2,000 beds and we will be doubling that in five years time," says Harpal Singh, chairman, Fortis Healthcare.
With Indian doctors achieving high levels of expertise and some Indian hospitals becoming world-standard, hospitals like Fortis may be able to meet the back-end needs of hospitals in the UK and Middle East. Its sister company SRL Ranbaxy is already getting blood samples from some of these countries for specialised diagnoses and confirmatory tests.
Singh sees good business opportunities in both remote diagnosis and the possibility of putting its doctors on the panels of leading hospitals abroad. "We are expecting to serve as a hub for remote radiology for several hospitals in the UK," he says.
And how does this concept work? The patient's X-ray, MRI and other images are electronically forwarded to doctors in India who diagnose the diseases and send their reports. This serves as a good business model for hospitals like Fortis, and also benefits patients overseas who can get their diagnosis done by experts at half the price they would pay in their own country.
"And now that Indian doctors have the opportunity to be attached to prestigious hospitals overseas, their urge to leave India for good is considerably reduced," says Harpal Singh, adding that Fortis Healthcare is also shaping up its expansion and acquisition plans keeping these developments in mind.
The model that Fortis has adopted for growth is a hub-and-spoke one. It is developing multi-speciality tertiary care centres with superspecialised nodal centres -- for instance, cardiology in Mohali and orthopaedic and neurosurgery in Noida. The spokes will have multi-speciality features covering practically all critical diseases.
"In Punjab, while Mohali serves as a hub, our hospital in Amritsar serves as a spoke. And we are planning one spoke each in Ludhiana and Jallandhar," says Singh.
The company is looking both at acquisition and greenfield projects. For instance, in Jessaram in Delhi, the company acquired management control and is currently upgrading its infrastructure and equipment. Acquiring management control of hospitals is coming in handy as a model for expanding Fortis' healthcare business.
"Fortis has already acquired a brand name for itself in terms of quality healthcare which will see us acquiring more such hospitals," says Singh.
As part of its greenfield project, Fortis bought a 7.5 acre plot in west Delhi's Shalimar Bagh to develop a multi-speciality hospital with 500 beds. The company plans to start construction as soon as the monsoons are over. The company zeroed in on Shalimar Bagh because it is a densely populated area of Delhi that does not have world standard medical facilities.
Its Noida hospital, with 180 beds, has specialised orthopaedic and neurosurgery centres. In a couple of months, the bed capacity will increase to 250 and then to 350 by the middle of next year.
"We have some leading orthopaedic surgeons on board, including those who were involved with the treatment of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee," says Singh.
Taking northern India as the focal point, the company plans to have four hubs in this region and 12-15 spokes in three to five years. It also claims it has the best equipment and state-of-the-art machinery in both Mohali and Noida.
The Mohali hospital also has a family inn where the patient's family can stay while he is in the hospital. Besides this, there are special facilities for the drivers or attendants of those undergoing surgery. This has been done keeping in mind that the hospital is some distance from the city.
Fortis is also getting into backward linkage, with a medical and nursing college in Gurgaon along with a research laboratory, for which it is planning to acquire 11.5 acres of land in Gurgaon.
The doctors and nurses these colleges churn out will be absorbed in Fortis's new and existing facilities. The company is also planning to start a central reference laboratory to expand its diagnostic businesses.
And if someone decides to get cardiac surgery done at Mohali's Fortis, there are chances that he/she will have to wait for some days -- the 250-bed hospital is perpetually full. "Tomorrow, if I want a room for somebody, I will also have to wait," says Harpal Singh proudly.Clearly, lack of quality hospitals in northern India has turned Fortis' fortunes.