Dr D P Saraswat is chief executive officer of Action Group of Hospitals, which includes Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute and Action Cancer Hospital, New Delhi. He has been associated with the organization since May 2010. He carries a rich experience of 39 years in the medical industry.
Having completed his graduation from S N Medical College, Agra, Dr Saraswat went on to join the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare in New Delhi for Hospital Administration Certification. He completed his masters in Hospital Administration from Pune University.
Dr Saraswat began his medical career in 1972 with Army Medical Corps where he served on various administrative assignments for 22 years. He has been instrumental in setting up the 550-bed multi-disciplinary Manipal Teaching Hospital at Pokhara, Nepal. In addition, he also headed Mangalore-based two teaching KMC Hospitals of Manipal Group and the multi-disciplinary super speciality Kasturba Hospital. He had been the medical director and chief operating officer of Manipal Hospital, Bangalore. Before taking charge as the CEO of Action Group of Hospitals, he was director – operations and regional director of Max Healthcare, New Delhi.
In an exclusive interview with India Medical Times, Dr Saraswat discusses his role as a top executive of a hospital and his continuous quest to serve the healthcare sector.
How did your journey in Medicine start? How Hospital Administration eventually became an area of your interest?
I have been in medical field for four decades now, of which last five years have been spent in Delhi with Action Healthcare and Max Healthcare. Before this I was associated for almost one and a half decade with Manipal Group of hospitals and for more than two decades I was in the armed forces.
My last more than one and a half decade has been as Head of Hospitals in both India and abroad. These hospitals were of various sizes and types. While the smallest of these was having 200 beds, I have also been associated with one of the largest hospitals in private sector in India which had 1,200 beds under one roof.
Of these hospitals, some of them have been teaching hospitals and others were in corporate sector. The service profile of these hospitals ranged from charitable non-profit on one end of spectrum to strictly for-profit corporate hospitals on the other end.
I have been fortunate to attain experience of planning, designing and commissioning varying sizes of multidisciplinary hospitals in India and abroad, besides driving operations of hospitals. Appreciation has been bestowed on me time and again for turning around some of underperforming hospitals to outperforming profitable hospitals.
This picture of career path is not complete unless you see the other side of my profile. Academics have been my fascination and I attained the status of being Professor and Head of Hospital Administration Department conducting MD (Hospital Administration) course. As Deputy Registrar of Manipal University and Joint Director (Training) conducting MBBS, Post-graduate and super-specialty selection has been exciting experience in my career. I strongly propagate that administrators should have wide spectrum experience.
How did you get associated with Action Healthcare? How has been the experience so far?
My association with Action Healthcare is of three and a half years now. Action hospitals enjoy positioning as a preferred tertiary care hospital and we capture a significant share of healthcare market space in North and West Delhi. Action Healthcare’s mission is to provide world class affordable healthcare facilities to all sections of the society with a humanitarian touch, while maintaining high standards of ethical practices and professional education with emphasis on training and education leading to research. This profile and positioning of Action Healthcare excited me and I grabbed the opportunity when it came my way.
The two flagship hospitals of Action group are the Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, which is designed to be 400 bedded multi-disciplinary super-specialty hospital, and the Action Cancer Hospital with 150 beds catering to only oncology patients. Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute and Action Cancer Hospital are within same campus, located in West Delhi. I would like to narrate my experience as under:
a. I feel free to change the work culture so that the employees feel engaged with the company. In addition to being my responsibility, this is something I have always loved to drive. The promoters ‘Aggarwals of Action Group’ have never missed any opportunity to make every employee feel as one of their family members. This strong employer-employee bond helps in enhancing employee engagement, which is visible at work place in both hospitals. This kind of intense engagement facilitates help in creating a culture of mutual trust and respect.
b. Availability of capital and working cash flow is assured at the appropriate times in required amounts. This strengthens my hands to do whatever is required to be done to drive the various initiatives, thus adding to my sense of achievement. Action Group is a consortium of industries. Of all our verticals of industries, healthcare is a charitable initiative.
c. Handling large volumes of patients through an engaged and motivated team of employees has helped us to treat a significant number of poor and deprived patients at the same level of care and empathy as given to the elite patients. This achievement has also given me immense personal satisfaction to be a part of this Group.
The group has a network of four hospitals. What challenges did you face in setting up these hospitals?
The journey of healthcare in Action Group commenced about two decades ago. To begin with a charitable hospital with focus on orthopaedics, ophthalmology, obstetrics & gynaecology amongst others was set up in Hissar, Haryana.
Encouraged by the response to this hospital in Haryana, a free OPD clinic was started which has since been extending free laboratory diagnostics and medicines in rural urban in the middle of Delhi.
Almost a decade ago, the philanthropic drive was taken to the next level when a large multi-disciplinary super-specialty hospital was commissioned in Delhi. Encouraged by the overwhelming trust and faith of patients in this establishment, five years later another centre of excellence Action Cancer Hospital was set up within the same campus in West Delhi.
One of the challenges has been to hire clinicians with high skill sets and to keep them happy and motivated. Our nursing and paramedical staff also required immense efforts in training, followed by efforts to retain the trained staff to maintain pace with the highly skilled clinicians. Staffs trained by us are in great demand in market. Attrition of the nursing and paramedical staff needs tireless efforts in preparing the replacement staff to achieve same level of performance. Well-trained staff gives good feeling as being testimony of our brand.
How is the service model of Action Healthcare hospitals different from other hospitals?
Philanthropy being the foundation stone of our healthcare vertical, all our hospitals are designed and programmed to be charitable. Likeminded doctors and administrators have ensured us to give the best charitable care to needy patients. Our focus has always been to provide secondary and tertiary medical care without any neglect or compromise in service to the poor and deprived.
When we talk about the technology and equipment, we have always aimed to procure the latest and the best in the world. This facilitates our clinicians to deliver best medical care with the latest technology and equipments and also replacement of existing high-end equipments due to early obsolescence is delayed. This helps us in keeping cost of treatment at low, hence making it within the reach of a common man. Our attempts have resulted in larger footfalls of patients from Delhi NCR and neighbouring states. All this is achieved by maintaining service quality at high standards.
Any plan of Action Healthcare to foray into medical education segment or any other segment?
A long-term strategy is being made to set up an independent academic campus that will include a medical college, dental college, nursing college and an institute of allied health for paramedical courses. We plan to set up the campus in the National Capital Region. Luckily the state government and the Medical Council of India are also supportive to healthcare organizations by enhancing FAR (floor area ratio) for optimal utilization of land within Delhi and NCR.
Advancement in medical technology is an emerging phenomenon. What advancements have happened in your hospital?
One of the challenges in healthcare sector is the need for heavy investment in technology. This is compounded by early obsolescence due to rapid advances in technology requiring constant up-gradation of existing equipments. We try to strike a balance between the high costs required to have the latest technology on one hand and keeping the medical care affordable for the middle and lower strata of patients. Lower cost of treatment remains the focus while choosing medical technology. Both our hospitals in Delhi have latest technology including operation theatres equipped with Karl Storz OR 1 with web based conferencing facility, Varian RapidArc Clinac linear Accelerator, Nucletron Brachytherapy, GE Innova Cath lab, Siemens Cath lab, GE 16 slice PET/CT, 1.5 Tesla MRI, GE 64 Slice CT scan, GE Gamma camera, MRI compatible ventilator, MRI compatible anaesthesia machine, Siemens Mammography etc which enable our highly skilled doctors to give best medical care to patients. Pneumatic chutes are used for quick transmission of samples and retrieval of reports so that there is no delay in diagnosis and treatment of patients. Hospital Information System has unique feature called “objection software” which brings out any delay or deficiency in patient care.
What are the expansion plans of the hospital? What are your upcoming projects?
Action Healthcare is currently planning the expansion of its existing hospitals – Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute and Action Cancer Hospital. The expansion will be in terms of bed numbers, new specialized clinics and facilities. The investment for the expansion will be need-based. As stated earlier we are lucky that our state government and the Medical Council of India are supportive to such healthcare organizations by enhancing FAR for optimal utilization of land within Delhi and NCR. We are working on expansion potential up to two and half times of our existing infrastructure.
What are your interest areas outside medicine?
My areas of interest include studying human behaviour, acquiring knowledge of the history of planets and evolution of mankind. My leisure time is spent with family members.
Please share with us your most successful accomplishments. Do you continue your quest for success?
My endeavour has been continuous success in all my assignments. It did happen but with varying degree in different times in my professional career. Life is like ECG graph, which shows spikes and dips. A flat ECG line indicates no life. Luckily, I got opportunity to work for large and very large organizations like Armed Forces, Manipal Group and Max Healthcare prior to joining Action Healthcare. Location and size of hospitals throw up different challenges when it comes to creating the working culture and leading doctors, nurses and others.
a. The toughest ever accomplishment in my life was to become the most preferred hospital as perceived at national level within three years of my being in the leadership role in a 550 bedded multi-disciplinary teaching hospital at Pokhara (Nepal). One and a half decades ago, I was assigned the responsibility to set up a 550-bedded multi-disciplinary teaching hospital at Pokhara. Compliance of provisions of Nepal Medical Council and Health Ministry were achieved. Yet the challenge was to take on board full time doctors, nurses and technicians from India and create working culture of Manipal Group. Being an Indian group in an insurgency environment in Nepal during those days, I could keep our hospital team safe and motivated.
b. In 1996, a 300-bedded hospital was almost to be declared as a sick unit of our group. I volunteered to take over as Medical Superintendent of this hospital. Within three months, systems started showing signs of improvement; in about six months doctors regained trust and in one year this hospital turned around in terms of occupancy, market perception and in financial terms.
c. I was the Chief Operating Officer of a 1,200 bedded teaching hospital having 45 years into existence. The accomplishment has been to regain its old glory of perceived as AIIMS like hospital of coastal Karnataka, besides financial health of the hospital also improved.
Any mentors you would like to name?
What are your future plans?
Future plans are need based. A roadmap has been drawn by Action Group to cope up with the healthcare needs at regional and national level. The short-term plan is to expand the existing scope of services, infrastructure and specifically service quality. Long-term plan is to set up a medical college along with a dental college, nursing college and allied health college for para-medical courses under a university of our own.
Your message to our readers?
In this competitive environment it is essential to create perception of your organization as ethical, patient centric and quality driven. In an endeavour to sustain this perception let us not fall into the trap of allowing anything to happen which shall demolish this perception. To stay ahead in healthcare industry in this geography, one has to be world-class service provider at an affordable cost. Deliberate effort should be made to retain old patients. Strategize to operate on large volumes at lower cost of operations. It can be achieved by optimizing personnel cost and consumables among other initiatives.
by Vidhi Rathee