Having become the first Ayurveda hospital to become nationally accredited, AyurVAID Hospitals hopes to show that the ancient form of medicine can treat mainstream diseases as it looks to scale and become a pan-India brand.
MAHATHI R. ARJUN
It is a traditional form of India’s native medicine that is centuries old but Ayurveda does not enjoy the mainstream treatment as modern medicine does and is considered an alternative treatment. But having spent time researching this in his role as special officer of biotechnology in Kerala, Rajiv Vasudevan realised his initial sceptical views on Ayurveda was changing. “Instead of using modern science to validate Ayurveda, I realised Ayurveda is science. It’s not just a bunch of techniques but has clearly articulated concepts, framework and measurements on various aspects of medicine,” says Vasudevan, founder and CEO, AyurVAID Hospitals (AyurVAID). Vasudevan realised that Ayurveda works effectively with many mainstream ailments such as hypothyroidism, sinusitis, auto immune diseases etc. He also saw that Ayurveda was being approached as a products industry when there was a paradigm shift in opportunities while viewing it as a services industry. Hence, in 2005, he set up two small Ayurveda hospitals in and near Cochin, Kerala under the parent company, Kerala First Health Services Pvt. Ltd.
Even though there was no precedence of any such chain of Ayurveda hospitals other than independent practitioners, Vasudevan was determined to make AyurVAID on par with global standards such as the U.S. JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organisations). In 2010, it became the first Ayurveda hospital in the country to get the NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers) accreditation. But long before then, Vasudevan had already developed protocols and systems modelled after the American standards. There are now two AyurVAID hospitals in Bengaluru, one in Cochin, and a day care hospital in Chennai. With a total of 60 beds, the hospitals have a patient base of 25,000 of which 6000 have come in for treatment, besides consultation. The cost range is, depending on the ailment, is between Rs. 1250 – 2000 per day for outpatient treatment and Rs. 4000 – 6000 per day for inpatient treatment. According to Vasudevan, the company has grown year-on-year by 50 – 60 per cent for the last three years.
In 2008, AyurVAID received funding to the tune of Rs. 4.5 crore with an add-on round in 2011 from Acumen Fund that was utilised for scaling up its hospitals. “AyurVAID’s strength lies in showing that Ayurveda can prevent and cure chronic and non-communicable diseases. More often than not, most hospitals treat only the symptoms and seldom get into managing the root cause. Our model is based on curing, rehabilitating and preventing serious ailments like stroke, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and others,” shares Vasudevan.
Contrary to the medicine field that Vasudevan currently works in, he completed his mechanical engineering degree and then got an MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta in 1987. His career graph includes working for Godrej and Motorola for six years each, in various management roles. In 2001, he moved to the Kerala Government to promote investment into state, particularly in the IT sector and helped create jobs for 2.5 years before taking up the role as special officer of biotechnology that brought him into contact with medicinal plants and his first brush with Ayurveda. When he left the government in November 2003, he was invited to be on the board of an Ayurveda products company besides a bank and that set the ball rolling. By 2004, Vasudevan yearned to set out on his own and he put his savings to start AyurVAID. Until the funding, he had spent Rs. 50 lakh on the company. The first hospital in Cochin had 10 beds and the second one in Aluva was equipped with 30 beds.
Having started small, Vasudevan took to All India Radio to broadcast messages to target whoever would be interested in receiving treatment. The response saw people from all walks of life walking into the hospital. “Getting the initial set of doctors on board was a real struggle but from day one, we were clear about our vision and I think that struck a chord with them,” he says of his current team of 15 doctors. As he scaled, Vasudevan also got himself qualified as an ‘assessor’ of the NABH, Quality Council of India in 2007, making him the first person from the Ayurveda sector to receive this accreditation. He is also a member of the technical committee constituted by the Government of India for formulation of NABH accreditation standards for Ayurveda hospitals – the only non-doctor in the committee.
But Vasudevan also had to shut down three of his hospitals in Dharavi slum area in Mumbai, in Hubli and a satellite one in Cochin. In an effort to reach to the base of the pyramid (BoP), he started the Ayurseva scheme to reach out to the economically weaker sections through subsidised rates. The one in Dharavi was an 18-bed hospital, which was shut down after three years of operation. “The Dharavi project was too ambitious then. The RSBY (Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna) scheme covers only modern medicine and not Ayurveda, so the people who came to our hospital, couldn’t afford it. We tried to work with insurance companies but it didn’t succeed. Also, our resources were too stretched by orchestrating too many things and hence, we decided to focus on our current model,” says Vasudevan. However, the current hospitals do continue to tend to the needy with the Ayurseva scheme.
AyurVAID Hospitals (Kerala First Health Services)
Founder: Rajiv Vasudevan
Investment: Rs. 4.5 crore from Acumen Fund in 2008 with an add-on round in 2011
Vasudevan sees a great opportunity in using India’s ancient knowledge to help people. While it hasn’t been easy to break past the mind set against Ayurveda as a stopgap treatment, he finds more people are favouring it. The hospitals have been state government approved and work with many medical insurance companies, and are awaiting central government approval. As he scales, one of Vasudevan’s biggest expenditure is the real estate by working out of leased premises. In the next six months, the process of expanding to more areas will begin. To do so, his strategy is to follow the hub and spoke model in a cluster concept – look at the top five metros and have more than one central hospital with inpatient facilities in the city and supported by spokes (day care hospitals). And by having the necessary standards and protocols in place, he is confident that the quality of the Ayurveda treatment does not get compromised. To ensure customer satisfaction, the hospital tracks the treatment lifecycle of every patient from consultation to post discharge. “We’re a highly process and metrics driven company. We have data that goes up to past six years,” he adds.
Vasudevan’s goal now is to sustain the current growth by consolidating its current locations before looking at other cities. He might raise funding within the next six months to start the scaling process. While the regulatory factors and the central government and medical insurance empanelment have been important enablers, the increased market awareness and acceptance of Ayurveda treatment acts a boost for AyurVAID. “We see ourselves playing a complementary role to modern medicine. My vision is to see AyurVAID become a pan India organisation and Ayurveda treatment seen as a mainstream choice with AyurVAID pioneering that cause,” concludes Vasudevan.
Concept in brief:
Rajiv Vasudevan realised that Ayurveda works effectively with many mainstream ailments. In 2005, he set up two small AyurVAID Hospitals in and near Cochin, Kerala under the parent company, Kerala First Health Services Pvt. Ltd. In 2010, it became the first Ayurveda hospital in the country to get the NABH accreditation. With a total of 60 beds, the current four hospitals have a patient base of 25,000 of which 6000 come in for treatment, besides consultation. According to Vasudevan, the company has grown year-on-year by 50 – 60 per cent for the last three years. In 2008, AyurVAID received funding from Acumen Fund to the tune of Rs. 4.5 crore that was utilised for scaling up its hospitals. In the next six months, the process of expanding to more areas will begin. To do so, his strategy is to follow the hub and spoke model in a cluster concept. AyurVAID’s success lies in maintaining the standards and processes of any corporate hospital that will ensure its mainstream success.