Interview: Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy, Founder and Chairman of Apollo Hospitals


Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy, M.D, MBBS, FCCP, FICA, FRCS (Hony) is a cardiologist, entrepreneur, founder of the Apollo group of hospitals, and a healthcare visionary. He was instrumental in shaping the private healthcare revolution in India, and is widely regarded as the architect of modern healthcare in the nation. He is best described as a compassionate humanitarian, who has dedicated his life to bringing world-class healthcare within the economic and geographic reach of millions of patients.

Apollo Hospitals

Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy, Founder and Chairman of Apollo Hospitals

  1. How did you achieve your status as one of India’s enduring icons?

I have been blessed with the love and respect that the people of India have given me. The person I have to thank the most for being a vital beacon in my life is my father. We were very happy and settled abroad, when a letter from him changed my life.

He told that while they were extremely proud of my success in the USA, it was time to think about my responsibility to my motherland. It was time to use my experience and clinical skills to help my fellow Indians.

That was the genesis of the dream. I came back to India, and most immediately felt the dire need for a world-class hospital. We started Apollo Hospitals with the simple mission to ensure top quality healthcare came to India, rather than Indians having to travel to distant corners of the world to get it. Thanks to my tireless team, today we have touched the lives of over 45 million patients. Others have been inspired too; India now has over 750 corporate hospitals. Today people from across the globe travel to India to get treated.

  1. Prior to establishing the first Apollo hospital what was your previous career?

Having received my pre-medical degree from the prestigious Madras Christian College and medical degree from Stanley Medical College, Chennai I trained as a cardiologist in the UK and later USA. After receiving my Fellowship from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA, I went on to head research programmes at the Missouri State Chest Hospital USA whereby I worked for several years before returning to India in 1978.

  1. When was the first Apollo Hospital Launched?

The first Apollo Hospital came up in Chennai in 1983. It has to be said, amidst much scepticism. I often say that every brick in the first Apollo Hospitals stood for an obstacle that we faced and represented our struggle to see the fruition of our dream.

India in the early 80’s was not the easiest place for private enterprise. The best of intentions could get lost in the quagmire of licensing and bureaucracy.  The concept of private healthcare was completely alien, and one helpful official even suggested we would be better off building a hotel than a hospital.

Back in the 1980s healthcare institutions other than small physician-owned nursing homes were unknown and they were not doing cutting edge work. Thankfully a few pioneering leaders grasped the vision we had for Indian healthcare, and helped facilitate matters. Thirty two years later, Apollo Hospitals has become one of the world’s largest providers of high-technology healthcare. With speciality in the areas of heart, liver and solid organ transplants, and also in knee and hip replacement surgery and robotic surgery, Apollo is an industry pioneer and a world leader.

  1. At the age of fifty, when most people start planning for retirement, you decided that you wanted to revolutionize healthcare in India. What was your motivation?

The idea to establish Apollo Group of Hospitals started germinating almost as soon as I came back to India, and started my practice in Chennai. The huge gap in quality healthcare in our country was painfully obvious. This idea became an imperative for me when I lost a patient who could not make it to Texas for an open heart surgery. I can still recall the devastated faces of his wife and young children. I was then I decided that the situation had become completely unacceptable, and something had to be done immediately so that more people don’t die just because they couldn’t afford expensive foreign treatment.

I aspired to create world-class medical infrastructure in India and make it more accessible and affordable to common people. These efforts bore fruit when we succeeded in setting up the first centre of the Apollo Hospitals Group in Chennai in 1983. Since its inception, Apollo has demonstrated that Indian skills and outcomes are equivalent to the best centres in the world.

  1. Growing up in the small village of Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh, India how did you come to fulfil your dreams?

I sometimes feel that being from Aragonda had a large part to play in my destiny of being in healthcare. In mythology, it is said that when Hanuman was transporting the mountain with the life-restoring Sanjivani herb to save Lakshmana who was hurt in battle, a part of the mountain dropped in south India, and that became Aragonda.

My dream was always to heal, and I knew that books would be my path to achieving that. I was a serious student and the first person from my village to leave for a higher education. I have to thank my family for their broad mindedness, and their total support for me to nurture my dreams.

My early years in Aragonda instilled in me the belief that wonderful things can happen if you don’t let go of your dreams. This lesson has been invaluable in every stage of my life since then.

  1. What was your vision when establishing Apollo Hospitals

The vision was to bring international healthcare within the reach of every individual. It was to attract the best medical talent to India including doctors from across the globe. We wanted to set up an integrated healthcare model that covered every facet of healthcare. More importantly it was to make concepts like clinical excellence, patient safety the norm in Indian healthcare.

We were always aware that one hospital group would never be enough to cover a billion citizens of India, so we wanted to catalyse the private healthcare sector in the nation.

  1. As a private entity has there been any recognition from the government for the contribution that Apollo Hospitals has made to healthcare?

The Government of India has recognized Apollo hospitals for its selfless service to humanity by issuing a postage stamp to commemorate the group’s pioneering work for over a quarter of a century. In 2010 I was individually conferred with the second highest civilian award, the “Padma Vibhushan”. These unequalled commendations from the Government of India are an acknowledgement of the group’s untiring pursuit for excellence in healthcare as we strive towards touching a billion lives.

  1. Has there been any recognition from your peers and other health stakeholders?

One of the earliest recognition I received was the Padma Bhushan award in 1991 for the contribution to the emergence of the private healthcare sector and role taken in bringing about several regulatory changes relating to licensing, import restrictions, organ transplantation. Adding to the number of esteemed awards and recognitions are the Mother St. Teresa’s ‘Citizen of the Year Award’, the ‘Asia Pacific Bio Business Leadership Award’ by the University of Southern California, and Modern Medicare Excellence Award by the ICICI Group for outstanding achievements in the healthcare industry and numerous Life Time Achievement Awards.

  1. Under your leadership what philanthropic work has the group of hospitals accomplished?

As a group we have been part of various activities, the Apollo group has undertaken philanthropic work through ‘Save a Child’s Heart Initiative’ (SACHI), the CURE Foundation for cancer care, the Indian Head Injury Foundation (IHIF), ‘Distance Healthcare Advancement’ (DISHA) and many others that have touched the lives of several hundred thousand children, differently-abled people, cancer and brain trauma patients.

Apollo helmed the Billion Hearts Beating campaign. With India reeling under the impact of Non Communicable Disease, and emerging as a leader in cardiac ailments, this movement was crucial to educate India about heart health.

More recently, we have started ‘Total Health’ in my native village, a model to care for an individual from birth and all through their life.

  1. How has the hospital group grown from when it was set up to date?

Starting from a 150-bedded Hospital in 1983, the Group has since continuously excelled and maintained leadership in medical innovation, clinical services and cutting edge research. With a network of over 8500 beds across 54 hospitals at culturally diverse locations in India and overseas, over 8000 top class clinicians and total employee strength of more than 65,000 professionals, the Apollo Hospitals Group is one of the largest hospital groups in the world, being consistently ranked amongst the best hospitals for advanced medical services. These hospitals have served over 45 million patients from 120 countries, with eight of them having the prestigious JCI accreditation. The group has grown exponentially both in India and overseas. Its growth is often said to be synonymous with India emerging as a major hub in global healthcare.

Today Apollo Hospitals Group is an integrated healthcare organization with owned and managed hospitals, diagnostic clinics, dispensing pharmacies and consultancy services. In addition, the group’s service offerings include healthcare at the patient’s doorstep, clinical and diagnostic services, healthcare ICT and health insurance. To enhance performance and service to customers, the company also makes available the services to support business, telemedicine services, education, training programs and research services and a host of other non-profit projects.

  1. As a pioneer in the industry what institutional changes to the private healthcare infrastructure have you helped in ushering in?

Apollo Hospitals ushered in a firm understanding of clinical excellence and subsequently Quality accreditation into the country. In addition, Apollo embraced technology in several ways – for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, to harness advancements in medical technology and furthermore to automate systems and processes to enhance patient satisfaction.

As an institution we have been at the forefront of various developments that have today become the cornerstone of modern medical practise. Amongst several front running and path breaking initiatives, resource developmental has been pivotal and Apollo was among the first in the country to establish academic centres for Nursing and Allied Health Education, Hospital Administration. Clinical Research was recognised as pivotal to shaping the future and Apollo committed funds for research each year. Recognising that telemedicine can help meet the increasing demand for universal access to high quality medicine, irrespective of geography, the Apollo team set up 125 telemedicine centres across seven countries and was instrumental in taking world class healthcare to tier II towns.  With the setting up of Apollo Clinics and Apollo Pharmacy, Apollo Munich health Insurance and many other such businesses, the Apollo Group (primarily identified as a healthcare provider) is today a leading provider of healthcare solutions, inclusive of next generation healthcare IT solutions and services. These have helped establish a modern healthcare network through both in house and outreach services, reaching out to millions of people.

  1. What aspect of the Apollo hospitals gives you the most pride?

Apollo Hospitals are driven by a single goal, to provide the best standards of patient care. It is this passion that has led to the development of unique centres of excellence across medical disciplines within the Apollo Hospitals network. Apollo Hospitals has JCI accreditations for seven of its hospitals, the largest by any hospital group in the region. True to its founding principles, the group has made quality healthcare accessible to the people of India and even overseas. It has become an institution of trust and a beacon of hope to so many searching for a cure for their ailments.

The legacy of touching and enriching lives stems from the pillars of the Apollo philosophy – experience, excellence, expertise and research. We pride ourselves for constantly being on the cutting edge and going the extra mile to stay relevant and revolutionary.

  1. Many individuals consider you as a compassionate humanitarian and architect of modern Indian healthcare, what makes them come to this conclusion?

This is brought by a lifetime dedicated to bringing world-class healthcare within the economic and geographic reach of millions of patients. The institution we built and the values and vision inculcated led the private healthcare revolution that transformed the Indian healthcare landscape. Both Apollo and I are honoured with the affection and respect we have received.

  1. What is your perspective towards preventive healthcare?

Each generation presents its unique healthcare challenges. This generation is plagued with the menace of NCDS. The incidence of diabetes, cancer, hypertension and cardiac ailments has causing havoc to national health and economic well being. In this situation the role of preventive healthcare is critical.

We have been pioneers in preventive healthcare in India. It is our mission to continuously evolve our preventive healthcare offering to make it more comprehensive and effective. The latest development in this front is our personalised preventive health check. In a personalised check factors like a person’s genetic makeup, lifestyle, and family medical history are important parameters during the testing and diagnostic stages.

  1. How else have you been instrumental in serving the Indian Nation?

In service to the nation, among others I have been the Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s National Health Council and advisor to its committees on Health care, Health Insurance, Public Health and Pharma.

I took a pivotal role in the genesis of NATHEALTH, the Healthcare Federation of India, Having envisioned the creation of NATHEALTH as the collective and credible voice to shape Indian healthcare.

NATHEALTH is today emerging as one of the nation’s most powerful and influential forums in facilitating the shift in mind-set, delivery and policy making to nurture the gift of good health for all in our country. It embodies the collaborative power of Indian healthcare stakeholders in their mission to address the urgent priorities and redefine the healthcare ecosystem of the nation.

I believe health is India’s biggest individual and collective responsibility. It is the duty of every stakeholder of Indian healthcare to inculcate the tenets of healthy living among Indians; it is their responsibility to work towards an ecosystem of universal healthcare. Together we have to kick-start the war on NCDS, we have to build a more robust healthcare backbone, and have to guide our nation to achieve the tremendous promise she represents.

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