Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous with RATAN JALAN

Ratan Jalan Nischala

Driven by an urge to make a difference in healthcare, innovation in business models and patient empowerment has been at the core of what he does.

Ratan Jalan is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Medium Healthcare Consulting. Ratan Jalan is widely acknowledged as a thought leader and a rare innovator in the healthcare industry.

Earlier, Ratan was the CEO of Apollo Health and Lifestyle Limited (AHLL), part of the Apollo Hospitals Group for almost a decade. He created some of the most successful and innovative healthcare formats in the country (India) such as a nationwide network of The Apollo Clinic and The Cradle, South Asia’s first boutique birthing centers. He also led some of the strategic marketing initiatives and international projects for the group.

In 1996, as President, Ratan set up India’s first hospital architecture and consulting firm Asian Health Services, a JV with ServiceMaster, then a Fortune 500 company. In a short span of three years, the firm became the undisputed thought leader in healthcare and had served leading organizations like Wockhardt Hospitals, Escorts Hospital, Max Healthcare, Aditya Birla Foundation, IL&FS and Gleneagles Hospitals.

Ratan has over three decades of experience across diverse industries and functional responsibilities. He started his professional career in the information technology industry with HCL Technologies and then moved to advertising at Lintas (now Lowe). During his ten years there, he started and headed the integrated marketing division and worked on leading Indian and international brands.

Ratan was awarded the Marketing Impact of the Year Award by S P Jain Institute of Management, a leading business school in India. He has been nominated as one of the 50 most influential professionals in retailing by Retailers, a leading industry publication. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2008 Franchise Awards for the success of The Apollo Clinic initiative. He is also a frequent speaker at leading management institutes such as Indian School of Business, IIMs and FMS and various industry forums such as, CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM, AIIMA and World Economic Forum. He was one of few panelists invited from India to the Harvard Business School Global Centennial Summit.

He is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and Harvard Business School. He is an avid reader (mostly, and somewhat regrettably, non-fiction) and an occasional writer.

I was introduced to Ratan Jalan a few months ago; Thanks to the kind and thoughtful gesture of my IIMB Professor D V R Seshadri.[I must confess that I did not know much about Ratan Jalan till this introduction]. After that introduction, I read all I could find on Ratan Jalan and was truly impressed with his vision, thoughts, achievements and the transformation he has brought about in the Indian Healthcare Industry. (Personally, if I had to place my bets on 2 industries which will change the face of India for the next decade they would be (1) Education and (2) HealthCare).

That’s how our journey started… Along the way, Ratan has been a reader of my blogs and has been encouraging about my blogging success. And one fine day, I asked Ratan if he would be willing to do a rendezvous on my blog. Luckily, he said YES!

As I did my research on Ratan Jalan, I can across two very interesting articles by Ratan Jalan which you should read:
Common Man, Uncommon Problems
Mending Marketing mistakes in HealthCare

In this Rendezvous, Ratan shares some insights from his professional journey; and some nuggets of wisdom for life.

Nischala: Firstly, Thank you so much for your time. It is indeed a pleasure to talk to you
Ratan Jalan: Thanks Nischala for talking to me. It is indeed a pleasure to connect with you

Nischala: So Ratan, if you can share your own personal journey with respect to your career and life, that would be a great start.
Ratan Jalan : I was from a middle-class family brought up in one of the over-crowded neighborhoods in old Calcutta. Though I studied in a Hindi-medium school, I guess I was good in studies and as expected, got into the science stream. Mr Ram Pravesh Singh, who was a tutor at home, proved to be the real inspiration and made me sit for the IIT entrance exam. Fortunately, I got a reasonably got rank and found myself in IIT, Kharagpur. Somewhere during my days at IIT, I also realized that I didn’t want to do the typical shop floor or the R&D kind of engineering jobs. I got into HCL Technologies in 1978. I was one of the initial few employees then. IT was just taking off, and those were the days when companies were trying to understand what IT is all about. I continued to be in IT for the next 8 – 10 years. HCL was the best training ground I could have imagined as a fresher. It literally teaches you how to do the impossible stuff!

A meeting with Alyque Padamsee led me to join Lintas (now Lowe, the largest and the most revered advertising agencies those days) to start their direct marketing division and also offer services in areas like marketing MIS and market modeling. I really enjoyed working on some of the best brands in the country and also got to appreciate the nuances of consumer behavior and communication.

I then entered the Healthcare industry as President of Asian Health Services, possibly the first hospital architecture and consulting company in India. In less than three years, we created a phenomenal brand equity and track record of successes. Then, I joined Apollo Hospitals Group as CEO of one of their Companies. It was again a phenomenal learning experience since the industry was “new” to me.

If I look back at my own personal journey, I think what has really kept me going in my career and life is the fact that I deliberately seek zones of discomfort and enjoy working in industries which are a little ahead of their times – Be it IT, direct marketing or healthcare consulting. Moreover, getting into newer industries has created periods of extreme anxiety for me, since I realize that I don’t know enough. And that’s what got me to crash learning expeditions about such different industry segments – something, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I honestly believe that you should want to wake up every morning and go to work; because there is something new, challenging, unknown waiting for you. There should be fun and learning – Both are integral to a meaningful professional career.

Nischala: That’s interesting. Can you elaborate a bit on “seek zones of discomfort”?
Ratan Jalan: Sure. It is something I strongly believe in. Let me elaborate with an example. My wife has been making parathas for the past 35 years, and there are days she makes excellent parathas and days when the parathas are not so great. But that’s the law of averages at work. However, doing something of that kind can never create a sense of achievement or joy for her. Now if I ask her to make an Italian dish – say a pizza or a pasta, she is going to be nervous as it is out of her comfort zone. But at the end of the day, if the dish turns out great – she has learned something new, she will feel on the top of the world and enjoy that sense of achievement.

The point is there is no way you can achieve something worthwhile unless there is an element of “discomfort and fear”. So I personally advocate deliberately seeking “zones of discomfort” – and that is the only way you will exceed your own boundaries; and reach the peak of heights.

Like as a part of my own organization, I intentionally assign tasks to employees which are simply out of their comfort zone. Initially they all resist doing it simply because they’ve never done it before. And I say to them loud and clear “I Don’t Care that you have not done it before.. This is not an exam, and neither will you get a character certificate at the end of it. It is not about ‘pass or fail.’ So give it your best shot.. Put your heart and soul into it.. and then let’s see” .Whatever is the outcome, you would have learned a lot. Most of the times they do a fantastic job; and are deeply thankful for the opportunity itself. So the most important point is that you should be inherently OK with discomfort, and then put your best foot forward to achieve what you signed up for.

Nischala: Moving on, I’ve personally had several experiences in the recent past with hospitals / healthcare industry as an end-user. But never really heard of Healthcare Consulting. So I am curious to know what do you mean by Healthcare Consulting?
Ratan Jalan: By HealthCareConsulting, and specifically what we do is we provide consulting services to large hospitals, single specialty clinics and diagnostic centers or even primary care clinics on healthcare delivery. Other than business strategy, where we focus on creating new business models in healthcare, we are passionate about two other areas:

1) Marketing – And I mean this in a very broad sense. This would include Positioning (For e.g.: How would you position and differentiate yourself in the marketplace in comparison to other large hospitals or clinics), Pricing, Mass Media, CRM (Customer Relationship Management), Public Relations, Social Media, Events, etc. We take a holistic and comprehensive view towards Marketing. The fact is that a lot of hospitals and healthcare clinics don’t do marketing. They mostly do only sales. And they don’t see a need or scope for marketing.

We approach marketing in a scientific manner, and also based on the wealth of experience I myself have in this space, we are able to make practical recommendations to different organizations.

2) Patient Experience – “Patient Experience” is one of the most important dimensions of the HealthCare industry, and sadly the most overlooked. The point I am making here is that the “clinical quality and outcome of your medical ailment” is very different from “patient experience”. So you can come back from after a successful surgery for one of your close relatives and still believe that it was a lousy hospital. On the contrary, at times, someone does lose a friend or a relative in a hospital, yet think that it was a good hospital.

So “patient experience” is really about softer, but hugely important aspects like trust, empathy, empowerment, fairness, honesty, caring, sensitivity, transparency, etc.

The truth is that if a hospital really focus on “patient experience” and are good at it, they can actually charge a higher premium for the same services.  However, the sad fact is that most of the hospitals are “commoditized” and hence this is a HUGE “VANCANT OPPORTUNITY” which is crying for immediate attention and action – and we step in to help several institutions focus on “patient experience”. Unfortunately, most of the players tend to (and can afford to) ignore this and continue to do well despite this gap. And that’s purely because of the demand supply gap and the fact that you (as the patient) don’t even have options.

Nischala: That’s interesting. To be honest, it’s the first time I am hearing the word “patient experience”. I don’t know if too many hospitals focus on this. So any specific hospital / example which actually focuses on “patient experience”?
Ratan Jalan: Yes, There is this hospital, one of the best in the world called Cleaveland Clinic. They have even appointed a “Chief Experience Officer”, who champions the philosophy of ‘Patient First’ in everything they do. They consistently measure patient experience beyond clinical outcomes. In addition to the medical care, they focus on addressing some of the more softer aspects which most patients go through in a hospital-environment like anxiety, stress, poor decision making abilities during times of stress, etc, It is one of the best examples I can give for this.

Nischala: Thanks for sharing this. So moving on, how can hospitals and health institutes truly make a difference in healthcare?
Ratan Jalan: The fact of the matter is that the healthcare industry is far too “inward-looking”. And there is no competition really. But like I said before what can make a huge difference is focus on “patient experience”

We are at a very “crucial and vulnerable” phase in the healthcare industry. Historically, the fact is that the doctors has always held the status of a Demi-God, and are mentally and emotionally conditioned to having a “Godly” status simply because the information asymmetry was supreme. (For e.g.: In earlier times, you could never know much about diseases, causes, treatments, etc. – unless the doctor mentioned it.) Today, with technology and increasing awareness, information is freely available to masses, so “information asymmetry” has reduced. Of course, the doctors still know the best; and their advice and recommendations are valued and held in high regard, but the situation is different from how things were in the past. So I think it is also important for doctors and people in the HealthCare industry to recognize this fact, and re-align their own approaches to dealing with a “more informed customer”. The doctors and institutions which adapt to these changes will definitely be winners in the long run.

The other key point is that we are living in an era where lies, manipulation, negativity are commonplace. And these are also integral and systemic in the healthcare industry. Personally, I think a lot of how any organization functions depend on the mind-set / core values of the promoters / leaders at the top. So I think it is key to have the RIGHT leaders run healthcare organizations so that they propagate a strong culture of values, ethics and character. You can’t possibly start with an excel sheet, which computes ROI for different set of values and character and then select the one, which offers hightest ROI. It has to be something very intrinsic to the individuals or leaders at the helm of affairs.

Nischala: OK. Another point lingering in my mind is about the scope of Marketing in HealthCare. What in your opinion is the role of marketing here? Because honestly, if I am in a hospital, I don’t really want to be prey to marketing. And outside of a hospital, I hardly see too much marketing – In fact, I may not even be interested in knowing about things.
Ratan Jalan: Very valid point, and that is the real challenge for marketers in HealthCare. See let’s understand that nobody wants people to fall sick. But let’s say you fall sick, the aim of “marketing in healthcare” is to let you decide on what is the preferred place to go. That would be the primary aim.

Nischala: So coming to innovation which you briefly touched upon at the start on this Rendezvous. What kind of innovation in business models can happen in the HealthCare Industry? Can you give a few examples?
Ratan Jalan: Today, a typically large multispecialty hospital has presidential suites on one hand and general wards on the other. They tend to do ‘everything for everyone’. And in the process, not many end-customers (or patients) are happy. The rich complain that it is the most crowded railway platform and the poor think they are being exploited because the place is for the rich. I strongly recommend that people should think in terms of ‘focused factories’. Focus on doing something- be it a particular discipline or a procedure and focus on a particular segment. That’s what I call doing ‘something for someone’. The two best examples we have in the country are Aaravind Eye Institute and Narayana Hrudalaya. Both have become global icons of healthcare innovation.

Nischala: OK. So looking back at your own journey, can you share a proud moment or initiative as a part of your professional career?
Ratan Jalan: A long time back when I was in the US and visiting hospital beds, I saw a woman going into labor. And I realized that a girl going to deliver a child is not a typical clinical / medical activity. It is a memorable event for the whole family to welcome a new life; and this happens in a hospital. There is no way to celebrate this moment because a hospital, which is designed and run to treat ‘life-and-death’ problems is governed by central policies and procedures which place restrictions on celebrations – like visiting hours, white color everywhere, smell of medicines and disinfectants, infections, stretchers, etc. – Which is not pleasant for a women to fully enjoy her first moments of motherhood

And that’s when I came with the concept of “Boutique Birthing Centers” – Which is really a place of 10 – 15 rooms well equipped to handle the safe delivery of babies. Designed and planned to welcome a new life into the world, for joy and celebrations. Also, you can eat what you want. You can have your family and friends around for as long as you want.

And thus was born my dream project – “The Cradle” from Apollo hospitals. We have 3 centers in India – Delhi, Bangalore and Kerala. They have been designed as the first Labour, Delivery and Recovery (LDR) room concept in India. I’ve seen enough mothers deliver at The Cradle, and the joy they experience here is a moment of great pride and satisfaction. Again looking back, it took me 3 years to make this a reality, but definitely has been one of the PROUDEST moments in my professional career. We are now working on a more evolved model of the same concept branded as The Birthplace. The first such facility is scheduled to come up in Hyderabad.

Nischala: OK.. Now for the benefit of all my blog readers, one important question – What can anyone do w.r.t securing a safe and secure medical future? I am asking this purely because of your extensive association in the HealthCare industry, and also your real-life experiences in this space.
Ratan Jalan: Each one of us individually takes charge of our own health. “Knowing is not DOING, DOING is DOING” – We all know what is good for our health and well-being, but we just don’t do it. And the fact is as far as your health is concerned, what you know makes little difference. What you DO makes all the difference.

The MOST IMPORTANT things for a good health and good life are ironically free – Sleep, Water, Air, Walking, Stress Free Life. So start DOING what you have to DO today. And usually it is very simple and something which everyone knows – Eat Right & Healthy and Get some Regular Exercise. Sleep well, Laugh and Do things you Love.

Nischala: OK Thanks for these nuggets of wisdom. Your dream for HealthCare in India?
Ratan Jalan: Very simple – Everyone in the healthcare industry should look at life from the patient’s point of view. That single-minded focus will be enough to transform the way we deliver healthcare.

Nischala: As we end, any specific thoughts you’d like to share as a part of this Rendezvous?
Ratan Jalan: Sure. I’ll share what I usually share in all my speeches and key-note sessions, which I think is very important message.

In life, there are two broad choices for anyone to make.
Choice 1 is to MAINTAIN – And by and large, most of us spend most of our lives in the “Maintenance” mode – Maintenance is safe, secure and comfortable. For example: We prefer to work with really large institutions, for example, where nothing much can go wrong!
Choice 2 is to CREATE – To create requires a very different “mind-set” – one in which you need a lot of self-confidence; and more importantly you should be able to work in an environment in which there is no security, no guarantee and no predictability.

So when I address young people in colleges, B-schools, Medical schools, etc. I strongly urge them to answer one question

Do you want to join a large company; and be one in 1 lakh employees – and really “Continue to MAINTAIN” what was already created OR

Do you want to join a new company; and be one in 10 employees – and really “CREATE” something for a larger cause OR

Do you want to start a new venture of your own – and again really “CREATE” something that you are passionate about and believe in

Interestingly, a lot of youngsters today don’t want to join large companies. They dream and aspire to “CREATE”.. To “CHANGE the WORLD” and “TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE”

So there is HOPE, there is SCOPE to CHANGE and there are DREAMS to make a BETTER TOMORROW!

Nischala: Wow! That’s a very unique and thought-provoking perspective. Something for me to think about! Thank you so much for your time. Truly appreciate it
Ratan Jalan: Thank you for your Rendezvous. And Best Wishes for your blogging endeavors.

How did you like this Rendezvous? Leave a comment to let me know