Chasing the “Holy Grail”: Reasonably affordable healthcare for all

The Healthcare industry of the world as a whole with a size of several trillion US$ is growing at a fast pace in many countries for various reasons. The industry can be broadly divided into six categories as follows:

  1. Managed Health Care, like the US and many other OECD countries providing ‘Universal Health Coverage’
  2. Medical Equipment and Devices
  3. Pharmaceuticals
  4. Bio-pharmaceuticals
  5. Health Insurance
  6. Health Support Services

Though BRIC countries and other emerging markets are showing promising growth potential, United States of America (USA) still remains the largest entity within the global healthcare industry, followed by European Union (EU) and Japan.

Success requirements:

The most important success requirements for the Global healthcare industry may be listed as follows:

  1. Proficiency in early capturing of the key market trends
  2. Leveraging technology in all areas of business
  3. Continuous product and service innovation
  4. Meeting customer needs even before they feel for the same
  5. Cutting-edge, well-differentiated and well-executed market and marketing strategies
  6. Always in touch with customers with win-win business objectives
  7. Outpacing competition with continuous proactive moves


The success factors for excellence in the healthcare sector of India are no different from other emerging markets. However, some key components of this sectoral space, like optimal infrastructure and efficient delivery mechanisms, especially in the hinterland and rural areas of the country, are still in ‘Work In Progress (WIP)’ stages of development.

Healthcare growth drivers in India:

According to the Investment Commission of India, the healthcare sector of the country has registered a robust CAGR of over 12 percent during the last four years and the trend is expected to be ascending further.

Quite in tandem, other important areas of the healthcare sector have also recorded impressive performance as follows:

Areas Growth %
Hospitals/Nursing Homes 20
Medical Equipment 15
Clinical Lab Diagnostics 30
Imaging Diagnostics 30
Other Services (includes Training & Education; Aesthetics & Weight loss; Retail Pharmacy, etc.) 40

In addition, from the allocation made for health (2.5 percent of the GDP) in the 12th Five Year Plan Document of India, it appears that the country will clock a mid to high-teen growth in its healthcare spending during this period, mainly due to the following reasons:

  1. Economy to turn stronger
  2. Massive public healthcare expansion through projects like Universal Health Coverage (UHC), expanded National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), new National Urban Health Mission (NUHM)
  3. Expanded Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojojana (RSBY) for Below Poverty Line (BPL) population
  4. Growing middle income households both in the urban and rural areas
  5. Increasing life-style related health issues
  6. Improving penetration of Health Insurance

Key Challenges:

The path ahead will not really be strewn with the beds of roses. The rural healthcare infrastructure will continue to pose a key challenge, at least in the near term, some of the facts being as follows:

A. Status of Rural Healthcare Infrastructure in India:

Infrastructure and Services Villages [%]
Connected with Roads 73.9
Having any Health Provider 95.3
Having trained birth attendant 37.5
Having ‘Anganwadi’ Worker (Child Care Center in rural areas) 74.5
Having a doctor 43.5

(Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare)

B. Hospital Beds per 1000 of population:

Country Hospital Beds Per 1000 Population
India > 0.7 [Urban: 2.2 and      Rural 0.1]
Russia 9.7
Brazil 2.6
China 2.2
World Average 3.96

(Source: Kshema)

Needs more innovative business models:

Being supported by the monetary and other fiscal incentives of the Government, Tier II and III cities of India will continue to attract more investors for their future growth potential. At the same time, anticipated lower profit margins from these areas, predominantly due to relatively lower affordability threshold of the local population and inadequate health insurance penetration in these areas, is expected to make these healthcare providers to plan for no-frill innovative business models, like much talked about ‘the hub-and-spoke model’, as practiced in many other industries.

Some of the key players of the healthcare industry of India like, Apollo and Fortis have already started expanding into tier-II and tier-III cities of the country, prompted by increasing demand for high-quality specialty healthcare services at reasonably affordable prices in the smaller towns of the country.

Meanwhile, Frontier Lifeline Hospital is reportedly in the process of setting up India’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for healthcare, ‘Frontier Mediville’ at Elavoor, near Chennai.

Areas of caution:

While looking at the big picture, the following factors should also be taken note of:

  • At least in the short to medium term, it will be unrealistic to expect that India will be a high margin / high volume market for the healthcare sector in general.
  • The market will continue to remain within the modest-margin range with marketing excellence driven volume turnover.
  • The government focus on reasonably affordable drug prices may get extended to medical devices / equipment and other related areas, as well.

India is taking strides:

I.   According to the Rural Health Survey Report 2009 of the Ministry of Health and Family

Welfare, in rural India during the last five years:

  • The number of primary health centers has increased by 84 per cent to 20,107.
  • Around 15,000 health sub-centers and 28,000 nurses and midwives have been added.

II   According to RNCOS December, 2010 report:

  • Indian health insurance market is currently not only the fastest growing, but also second largest non-life insurance segment in the country.
  • The health insurance premium in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 25 per cent from 2009-10 to 2013-14.
  • By end 2013 India is expected to curve out a share over 3 per cent in the global medical tourism industry with a CAGR in the number of medical tourists to over 19 per cent, during 2011-2013 period.

III.    According to PwC, the medical technology industry of India is expected to grow from US$

2.7 billion in 2008 to US$ 14 billion by 2020.

IV.    Leveraging cutting edge technology, digital bio-surveillance projects are being initiated to

generate data on the prevalence of various diseases and to create actionable databases on healthcare needs in rural India by several private players like, Narayana Hrudayalaya and the Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre.

V.     Major healthcare players of India like, Manipal Group, Max Healthcare and Apollo are now

reportedly venturing into new segments such as primary care and medical diagnostics.

Job creation 
in healthcare sector:

The trend of new job creation in the healthcare sector of India is also quite encouraging, as supported by the following details:

  • The Healthcare sectors in India recorded a maximum post recession recruitment to a total employee base of 33,66,000 with a new job creation of 2,95,000, according to ‘Ma Foi Employment Trends Survey 2010’.
  • Despite slowdown in other industries, in the healthcare sector the new job creation continues at a faster pace.
  • With many new hospital beds added and increasing access to primary, secondary and tertiary / specialty healthcare, among others, the ascending trend in job creation is expected to continue in the healthcare sector of India in the years ahead.

Pharmaceutical Industry:

McKinsey & Company in its report titled, “India Pharma 2020: Propelling access and acceptance realizing true potential” estimated that the Indian Pharmaceutical Market (IPM) will grow to US$ 55 billion by 2020 and the market has the potential to record a turnover of US$ 70 billion with a CAGR of 17 per cent.

Currently India:

  • Ranks 4th in the world in terms of pharmaceutical sales volume.
  • Caters to around a quarter of the global requirements for generic drugs.
  • Meets around 70 per cent of the domestic demand for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API).
  • Has the largest number of US FDA approved plant outside USA
  • Files highest number of ANDAs and DMFs
  • One of most preferred global destinations for contract research and manufacturing services (CRAMS)


Despite all these, the healthcare Industry of India is still confronted with many challenges while striking a right balance between public health interest and expectations for a high margin ‘free market’ business policies by a large section of players in the healthcare sector of India, across its sub-sectors, both global and local, quite unlike many other emerging sectors, like telecom and IT.

Moreover, pharmaceuticals come under the ‘Essential Commodities Act’ of the country, where government administered pricing is common.

That said, without further delay, all stakeholders, along with the Government, should now join hands, to collectively resolve the critical issues of the healthcare sector of the nation, like:

  • Creation and modernization of healthcare infrastructure leveraging IT
  • Universal Health Coverage
  • Win-win regulatory policies
  • Creation of employable skilled manpower
  • Innovation friendly ecosystem
  • Reasonably affordable healthcare services and medicines for the common man through a robust government procurement and delivery system
  • Right attitude of all stakeholders to find a win-win solution for all issues, instead of adhering to the age-old blame game in perpetuity, as it were, without conceding each other’s ground even by an inch.

Now is the high time for India, I reckon, to reap a rich harvest from the emerging lucrative opportunities, coming both from India and across the world in its healthcare space. This, in turn, will help the country to effectively align itself with the key global healthcare need of providing reasonably affordable healthcare to all.

In pursuit of this ‘Holy Grail’, the nation has all the success ingredients in its armory, as mentioned above, to play a key role in the global healthcare space, not just as a facilitator to help achieving reasonable corporate business objectives of the healthcare players, but more importantly to alleviate sufferings of a vast majority of the ailing population, living even beyond the shores of India.

By: Tapan J Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.