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‘Goa is an emerging destination for medical tourism’

Manipal Hospital, Goa last week marked the first anniversary of its fully updated facilities. The top management of Manipal Health Enterprise (MHE) were down for the celebrations, including Dr Ajay Bakshi, managing director and CEO, who was in the state for the first time. In an interview with SHOMA PATNAIK, Dr Bakshi, who is a neurosurgeon, spoke about his plans to take the hospital chain forward in India and abroadThe year 2014 was of major investment and expansion for Manipal’s Goa hospital. What are this year’s plans?

2015 will be of consolidation and gaining the trust of local Goan people. In 2014, we invested Rs 100 crore in setting up new facilities and becoming a full-fledged multi-specialty hospital. For the current year, the only investment that we have in the offing is getting cancer treatment equipment worth Rs 20 crore, and other than that there is no major capital expenditure in the pipeline. Our goal for 2015 is to take the hospital closer to the local community, be fully used and frequented by locals.


How do you rate the Goa hospital overall in terms of quality and progress vis-à-vis other hospitals in the network?

It is a mixed score. I am very satisfied on the quality of doctors. Some of the best doctors are here and you’d be surprised to know how easy it was for us to recruit doctors for Goa. I am also satisfied on the quality of nurses as well as the quality of infrastructure equipment and the kind of care available. However, there are two-three areas where we need more work. The footfalls of local patients here are less than what we see in other states. Given the kind of facilities that are available, we would like to see more utilisation of it. Many Goans travel outside for treatment. But they need not when there is a similar kind of healthcare treatment available locally. And it comes along with other things. There is less congestion and noise or other pollution. In Bangalore, we have a very good hospital. But it is located in densely populated area, and therefore, not as comfortable as the Goa hospital.


What about the range of treatment? Is it making the most of the equipment available?

I am very satisfied on this front. Most advanced cancer surgeries are taking place here. We have built a superb cardiac team in the last six months. Complicated surgeries can and are being done in our Goa hospital. The only gap is in radiation for cancer treatment. It will get addressed after new machines come in through the additional investment, although it will take about two-three months for the equipment to start operations.


What is the current occupancy?

It is about 70-80 patients per day which is a moderate kind of occupancy rate compared to our other hospitals. We think that the Goa hospital can easily go up to 150 patients per day.


Large, private multi-specialty hospitals in Goa are crying about GMC doing heart surgeries and eating into their market. What is your opinion about it?

I think it is a great idea. As a conscientious citizen of this country and knowing how important affordable surgery is to the poor, I think the Goa government hospital is doing a very good thing for the people. The only problem is that the GMC has 20-30 heart patients per day on the waiting list which is not a good thing because delay in treatment is harmful. We feel that there should be collaboration between GMC and private hospitals to take care of wait-listed patients at subsidised rates. I hope that the government works out some arrangement so that we can take over the excess patients of GMC.


As a private hospital, how will you compete with GMC and achieve economies of scale? 

We cannot compete. In hospitals and healthcare industry there is no competition between the government and the private sector. Only collaboration is the answer. Goa has over 11 lakh population including floating population that goes up to 18 lakh. It means that there are enough patients for all and there is no rivalry within hospitals in seeking patients.


How much does medical tourism contribute to Goa’s business?

At presently it contributes very little, less than five per cent of the total revenues. In Goa, with the numbers of foreign tourists coming in, we believe that the hospital can easily take it (medical tourism) up to 10-15 per cent of the total revenue. In cities like Delhi, the share of medical tourism is currently 10 per cent. But then, Delhi is also India’s leading destination for medical tourism. It gets all the medical tourists coming in from CIS countries. Goa is an emerging destination and has long term potential. The time-frame for this potential is about five years, although we are hoping for it to happen sooner in the next two-three years.


How will you increase medical tourism’s share in total revenues for Goa? 

About 50 per cent of medical tourism is medical, the rest is other local factors like transport, weather, popularity of the destination, etc. For medical tourism to succeed, a hospital must put in place collaboration with other partners. We are trying to do that by having a medical-cum-tourism package where patient can take in a surgery and do recuperative care in holiday environment.


What is Manipal Hospital group’s plan in future?

Currently we are a network of 16 hospitals with total of 5,500 beds. We want to take it up to 8,000 beds in the next three years. New hospitals will come up through the acquisition route. We want to expand in north and west India. Delhi and Mumbai are where we want to open more hospitals, although the real estate cost in these cities is a prohibitive factor. We also want to open more hospitals in Goa, but that would depend on the progress of the current one. Rajasthan is another state where we want to expand although we have a hospital in Jaipur. If you notice we are going deeper into areas where we already have presence. That is our way of working. We would rather expand in states where people are familiar and satisfied with our hospital.


How does the group fund its investments? Any plans of going public?

Through private investors. We are privileged to have two equity investors. Recently, we got $150 million equity funding from TPG. Our funding is primarily equity funding from private overseas investors and internal accruals.


Does the Manipal Group remain bullish on Goa as a hot destination for hospitals and related healthcare?

We are very gung-ho on Goa’s prospects because it has several factors going for it. Location and the state’s reputation as an international tourist hotspot are the biggest factors in favour of it. We want to encourage people from all over the country to come to Goa for treatment. The hospital has the best of equipment and is focused on local people as well as medical tourists.

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