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Nov, 02 2015

Crafting eye care network with a vision

Seeing huge investment in the healthcare sector, eye hospitals are slowly adopting the franchise route. Until now, most eye care brands have opened self operated hospitals but now at a snail's pace the franchise trend is picking up.

Still there are many hospital brands that don't believe in giving the operation rights completely to a franchisee. Self operation is still on the high. So, how franchising in this arena is picking up. Let us tell you!

The National Programme for Control of Blindness was launched in the year 1976 by Govt. of India as a 100% centrally sponsored scheme with the goal to reduce the prevalence of blindness from 1.4% to 0.3%. But with rising cases in blindness and need for perfect eye care equipments and technology, many more eye care specialised hospitals have emerged in the country. Further, to expand their reach and give services to maximum number of people few of them have also supported and taken over the franchise route. 

The slow pace of franchising in eye care specialised hospitals has also given a boom to non-medical investors. Recently Home minister Rajnath singh during one of the eye care hospital's inauguration in Delhi said that India needs more eye care hospitals. Franchisors too agree that India needs more specialised hospitals. India has approximately 17,000 Ophthalmologists which translates into around 1 Ophthalmologist for every 75,000 people as against 1 Ophthalmologist for every 16,000 people in US or Europe. So, there is an acute shortage of eye care hospitals or Ophthalmologists in India.

Delhi based, Dev Eye Centre, a unit of Skiffle Healthcare Services Limited currently has five eye care centres in and around Delhi/NCR. It plans to have atleast ten more centres in the same region in the next 12-18 months and is actively seeking franchisees to assist them in expanding their operations. Sanjay Dewan, Director & CEO, Dev Eye Centre informs: “Franchising helps to expand fast without any capital investment and you can focus more on quality assurance, implementation of SOPs, and patient care.  And yes, we can reach out to other geographies as well, with the help of franchisee. Only thing is that one needs to take care of its management bandwidth before expanding.”

Commenting on the same, Dr. Preetam Samant, Vitreoretinal Surgery and Lasers Specialist and Director, The Eye Associates Mumbai (TEAM) says: “India definitely needs more eye hospitals. Although we are in a position to tackle common problems like cataract; we need more eye hospitals to deal with other growing eye problems. The incidence of eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and pediatric eye problems is steadily increasing and affecting the young generation. To tackle these, the need of the hour is more multi sub-specialty eye hospitals all over the country.”

Preferring doctors as franchise partners

Unlike Pathology Industry that also joins hands with partners/franchisees from non-medical background and trains them, Eye care hospitals look specifically for doctors. Speaking on the same, Dewan says: “We do prefer doctors as franchise partner/investor as doctors being at the helm of affairs are in a better position to handle/understand routine matters in comparison to any general businessman who have limited knowledge of healthcare sector. Eye care being a specialised field need a lot more care and you need to adopt standard protocol and maintain strict quality standards. Choosing a quality franchisee is the most critical aspect as generally a normal person can't understand the intricacies involved in this business.  One casual approach towards any one of the patient can affect you severally.”

Dr Samant of The Eye Associates Mumbai says: “With technological advancement, ophthalmic eye care has become machine dependent. Thus, it is escalating the cost of establishing and vis-a-vis running an eye care facility. Hence, the investment for starting a fully equipped eye hospital is huge and hence; the future would be possibly: Doctors joining hands with Investors and management personnel to set up and run such eye hospitals.”

Another well known brand, Dr. Agarwal's Eye Hospital, that was started in the year 1957 is also expanding fast pan-India. Dr Agarwal's Eye Hospital plans to open 140 new care centres globally by 2020 from the existing 60. The hospital will expand its presence via JV with renowned doctors of that particular city or by opening own hospitals.

Dr Amar Agarwal, Chairman and Managing Director of the Chennai-headquartered Dr Agarwal's Group of Eye Hospitals said: “We now have 60 full-fledged eye hospitals in India including 12 in Africa and one in Cambodia. We are looking at large investments. Rs 200 crore plus will be invested in first phase as part of this expansion plan. The amount will be raised through internal sources and debt. Raising money is not an issue. The aim is delivery of high quality eye care at the doorstep to everybody.”

Teaming up for opportunities

Mumbai-based, The Eye Associates Mumbai (TEAM), is also a Multi-speciality eye centre where the best eye doctors got together for a noble cause.  Currently, the brand has one centre in Mumbai and is seeking expansion pan-India keeping Mumbai on the top list.  The brand supports franchising model because in most of the metropolitan cities travelling is a nightmare. Hence, franchising allows healthcare to reach the patient's doorstep and thus decreasing the burden of the patient and the establishment.

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