When healing trumps billing: Dr. Aravindan Selvaraj
By Sanjay Pinto

Shylocks at billing counters. Isn’t that the first and the worst image conjured up by many patients at the very thought of super speciality corporate hospitals? You cannot expect to get admitted without coughing up a substantial advance payment, especially if you don’t have medical insurance. The vicious cycle of medical care, with hefty capitation fees at private colleges, the soaring cost of  equipment and high interest on borrowed capital, has made quick return on investment the driving force at many hospitals. Small wonder that doctors at some places are given ‘targets’ and are forced to order  a slew of costly diagnostic tests, push for surgeries and procedures and insist on hospital admissions, often when they are not required.

Enter Dr.Aravindan Selvaraj. The orthopaedic surgeon from Trichy, where his father D. Selvaraj  was the first Engineer and his mother Kousalya Devi was the first lady to cross Higher Secondary education in the village, makes no bones about the middle class values he brings to the table. At the 250 bed Kauvery Hospital in Chennai, this Co-Founder & Executive Director has a strict dictum of  ‘No Advance for the first 24 hours’. “We cater to many senior citizens who live alone with their children abroad. Hospitalisation itself can be stressful. Rustling up money at nano notice should not be another worry. We trust our patients. Payment issues have been few and far between”, he reveals, flashing that trademark Colgate smile. There are also instances where patients were discharged and given a few days to settle the balance in the bill after insurance approval.

It’s a refreshingly rare departure from the norm in the fiercely competitive private health care industry where the buzzword is ‘conversion’ – of outpatients to in-patients. Dovetailing two seemingly conflicting interests – commerce with ethics isn’t quite a tight rope walk for Dr.Aravindan. “Cost optimisation” is his mantra. “We don’t splurge but use our resources prudently.” Kauvery Hospital views satisfied patients as brand ambassadors who would spread the word that they were not ripped off while being treated. “We don’t compromise on diagnostic tools. For instance, if I am going to perform a spinal surgery, I obviously need to order an MRI Scan. But we don’t incentivise unnecessary tests, procedures or admissions. This philosophy of the hospital is reiterated at our regular townhall meetings.”

(Pic: Dr. Aravindan Selvaraj, Co – Founder & Executive Director – Kauvery Hospital)

Drawing lessons and inspiration from the United Kingdom’s National Health Service which is largely free at the point of delivery, Dr.Aravindan who had a 10 year stint in London and spent 5 years in Ireland, is clear that affordable healthcare need not be a mere slogan. A compassionate approach has not put the kibosh on the Kauvery Group’s growth. What started as a 30 bed hospital in Trichy is today a 400 crore turnover company with 550 beds across 3 units in Trichy, Karaikudi, Hosur and Salem, and another 250 beds and 800 employees in Chennai. The goal is to have 5 hospitals in Chennai in the next few years.

Neither has it led to a dip in the quality of treatment. “When a British Healthcare Delegation came to Chennai, our results in a key area – Hip Fractures among the elderly far surpassed that of our UK counterparts. Private health care in India can be available at a fraction of the cost compared to the West”, Dr.Aravindan notes with a sparkle in his eye, as he refers to his enviable Staff – Bed Ratio of 8:1.

Kauvery Hospital that enters its seventh year in Chennai this month was in the news when DMK patriarch and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister late Dr. M.Karunanidhi was treated there. “It was a challenging phase. I would often lock myself in my room and think about it. Yes, we were dealing with a VVIP. But I kept telling myself that we need to do everything in the best interest of the patient.”  Transparency was the hallmark of the hospital’s handling of Kalaignar’s hospitalisation and his last days there. This meant regular press releases and honest updates. That has become a template for others to emulate.

Full of beans and affable to the core, Dr.Aravindan is at the hospital at 7 every morning and does a 12 hour shift. On call round the clock, he is reachable even during his family holidays with his wife Nalini and his teenaged sons Rishi and Sibhi. With 29 years of medical practice under his belt, he leaves no room for complacency and never switches off. After his surgeries, he makes it a point to check on every patient in the Intensive Care Units and the wards, giving them all a pep talk and even cracking jokes with them, simultaneously monitoring aspects like cleanliness during his rounds.The only thing infectious that’s allowed in his hospital is a smile. Because healing need not hinge on just Vitamin M. 

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)