Neoskilling: Helping the healthcare sector rethink its raison d'être

The healthcare industry is no longer one that provides reactive treatment to a patient when brought to a primary health care center or hospital

Published: 20, May 2019

L Prasad is professor at IIM Bangalore and S Ramachandran is Principal Consultant at Infosys Knowledge Institute.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

If there is one phrase that succinctly captures the palpable public sentiment towards the country’s healthcare sector, it is often: “Callous money-grubbing scoundrels!”. Corruption at every level within public health providers is legendary. While the travails of patients in government facilities are well documented, a well-oiled PR machine of the private sector ensures that only the most shocking incidents are reported. Occasionally, books like Dissenting Diagnosis part the curtains, allowing us to peer behind the scenes, and the picture isn’t pretty.

Under siege from all sides, the rectification of the current dysfunctional system seems almost impossible. This is where Neoskilling could play a role, by helping physicians and administrators rethink their raison d'être (purpose for existence).

Neoskilling is a change in mindset through the proactive identification and development of capabilities, considering not just today’s needs but that of tomorrow too. In a digital Internet of Things (IoT) world and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, the way diagnosis is done will undergo a fundamental transformation. Such profound changes call for re-evaluating the patient-physician interface and relationship.

The healthcare industry is no longer one that provides reactive treatment to a patient when brought to a primary healthcare centre or hospital. The industry is moving towards a data based, remote, insights driven, proactive identification of treatment, as close to the patient as possible-–sometimes with a wearable on the wrist or even a swallowed capsule.

Borrowing Simon Sinek’s framework of 'Exceptional Leadership', we start from What, and proceed to How and Why for a detailed look at the healthcare industry. Looking at What the business has to offer, it is myopic management to look at healthcare as a means to make money for investors. The Neoskilling perspective is to look at a hospital as a repository of healthcare providers and facilities. The How part is to not squeeze all stake holders to get a good revenue and profit. Instead, it is to offer a seamless interface between patients and service providers, leveraging digital technologies. The Why part is to realise that it is not just to maximise the return on investment for investors but to create a win-win society that is healthy and vibrant, leading to a thriving economy.

Arvind Eye Care Systems is an example of an organisation that followed such a framework to be successful on a large scale. Its mission or the What part was to prevent blindness in the society. The How part was an adoption of McDonald’s model of standardisation of procedures to result in efficiency, repeatability and reliability, delivering affordable world-class eye care. The Why part imbibed in the organisation was that by helping others, you are helping and healing yourself. Its founder, Dr. G Venkataswamy, proved that a non-profit with a business model is not an oxymoron but is socially responsible, viable and feasible.

For conveying this message to everyone in the organisation, what is required is not a bureaucratic employment contract or a commercial agreement based on the market conditions. The former results in complacency; the latter produces mercenaries who view patients as suckers to be fleeced. Instead, a 'psychological contract' that energises individuals to go above and beyond the call of duty for the sake of invalids is necessary. Such a mindset instills in employees an enlightened What, How and Why of an organisation. It results in a patient-centric healthcare provider, not merely a money-making business.

Rethinking a business’s raison d'être starts with senior management and seasoned medical professionals. But it should not stop with them. It is equally vital that the message percolates down to all levels of the organisation. The lack of this flow down the hierarchy is a root cause for several controversies in the recent past. Employees should have internalised an appreciation of the very purpose of an organisation and not get lost with quarter-to-quarter performance metrics.

It is only then that India’s healthcare sector will pass the litmus test, without being enamoured by sleight of the hand tricks of the trade, like the 'check-list manifesto,' and so on.

L Prasad is professor at IIM Bangalore and S Ramachandran is Principal Consultant at Infosys Knowledge Institute. This article is based on concepts presented in their recently released book, Neoskilling for Digital Transformation and the Artificial Revolution, published by Wiley India.

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