The story of Aravind Eye Care System (Aravind) can be expressed in one word – inspiring. Founded in 1976 as a post-retirement project of Dr. G. Venkataswamy, Aravind has today become a world-class institution for low-cost eye care. Today, doctors at Aravind perform over 1,000 surgeries per day, manage over 6,000 outpatients, consult with patients around the world through telemedicine and constantly train doctors in the field of eye care. It manages 4,000 beds in five eye care hospitals and 33 primary eye care centers in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. Till date it has performed 3.5 million surgeries, a vast majority of them for poor people at an extremely low price.
Aravind plays a vital role in reducing blindness, especially among the poor in India. R. D. Thulasiraj, executive director at Aravind says, “Managing efficiency in bottlenecks is key to the effectiveness of Aravind. We have systems and processes in place to ensure resource utilisation is at its maximum.”
Inspired by McDonald’s
When Dr. G. Venkataswamy founded Aravind, he knew there was something he could learn from the efficiency at McDonald’s Corp. His theory was that the eyeball, the problem and the treatment – were all the same. And a large number of people had the same problem. Thulasiraj says, “The two aspects that inspired us from McDonald’s were the efficiency and affordability it offered.”
At Aravind, the three critical resources are its ophthalmologists, equipment and space. “We ensured that none of our resources were kept idle at any point,” says Thulasiraj. The company had to ensure patient inflow was organised, to ensure doctors did not waste time waiting. Aravind actively worked with the community to make this happen.
One of Aravind’s primary tasks is to ensure the outreach work to get patients into the system works well. It established community-driven eye care facilities within a five kilometre radius in several rural areas. Once patients were checked at these community vision centers, they were sent to visit a hospital, if needed. The consultation fee is an affordable Rs. 50 for three visits. And, each and every patient is guaranteed a good experience in the hospital. The cost of a cataract operation for the poor is Rs. 750 and is comparable to care offered at mid-level eye care centers in the city. The community centers also had the option of delivering spectacles on the spot. It also designed a medical van with VSAT facilities, to perform more complicated medical tests at the community center itself. The fundamental aim was to get a patient into the hospital only if needed. Aravind also generates employment in villages, offering jobs to village girls to perform routine tasks.
The Aravind Way
Aravind believes in sharing the ‘processes’ behind its success with several eye hospitals around the world. They have taught the ‘Aravind way’ to over 270 hospitals world over, and most of them have doubled their efficiency after consulting with Aravind.
Aravind also setup a subsidiary company, Aurolab, which manufactures eye care equipment to further reduce the cost of eye care. Today, lenses manufactured by Aurolab are used by over 10 million people worldwide and has brought down the cost of eye care equipment tremendously.
In fiscal 2009, Aravind’s revenues touched U.S $22 million while its expenses were about U.S. $13 million. It operates at an EBITA (earnings before the deduction of interest, tax and amortization expenses) of 39 per cent consistently.
Thulasiraj signs off by saying, “At a broader level, decoding the Aravind way will go a long way in making eye care more efficient world over and maybe even help in establishing better clinical processes for other medical procedures. The key to success will depend on who is ready to take ownership of the problem and establish the process.”