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We have plans to open 25 centres in the next two years

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Chennai based eyecare specialised hospital, Dr Agarwal’s Healthcare has robust expansion plans and raised Rs 270 crore and Rs 215 crore from Temasek and CDC Group Plc respectively. The company aims to deliver high quality eye care at affordable prices and plans to open new centres in Tier-II and III cities. Dr Ashvin Agarwal, Executive Director and Chief of Clinical Services divulges the company’s expansion plans with Usha Sharma

Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital is a family run business and the third generation is continuing the family legacy, tell us about the journey so far.
Dr Agarwal’s Healthcare is headquartered in Chennai founded by the late Dr Jaiveer Agarwal in 1957. The first hospital which also serves as the flagship hospital was launched in 1976 in Chennai. That was a Greenfield project. Then, in 2006, we decided to take quality eyecare to the doorsteps of the people rather than the other way round. Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital has a network of 88 eye hospitals in 12 states within India and has a presence in Africa as well. Out of these, 70+ are in India and remaining are in the African continent in countries like Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mozambique and Tanzania.

The recent development of Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital indicates that there are geographical expansion plans in place, tell us more about it.
We have plans to open 25 centres in the next two years in India. Our focus would be more on expanding our presence in Tier-II and III locations in multiple states such as Karnataka, AP- Telangana, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The expansion will be done through a mix of strategic partnerships, acquisitions and greenfield hospitals. Besides adding new centres, we would invest in introducing cutting edge technology as innovation and technology has always been at the forefront of our growth.

How much do you plan to invest and how are you raising it?
Last year we raised Rs 270 crore from Temasek, a global investment company headquartered in Singapore. The investment was used to expand the Indian geographical footprint of the international eyecare chain, along with significant investments in latest technology for super speciality eyecare. Recently, we raised Rs 215 crore in debt from CDC Group which would go towards furthering the same vision.

Early this year, Temasek, an investment firm made an investment of Rs 270-crore, tell us how the strategic investment plans are in line with its decisive plans?
As mentioned above, the investment was used to expand the Indian geographical footprint of the international eyecare chain through greenfield and brownfield expansion, along with significant investments in latest technology for super speciality eyecare. We had an objective of adding about 50-75 hospitals to our network over the next three to five years with a major focus on metro cities as well as Tier II and Tier III towns. The expansion was done through a mix of strategic partnerships, acquisitions and greenfield hospitals and we will be investing further in cutting edge technology such as SMILE, FemtoLaser and Robotic Cataract Surgery across all our centres. Our aim is to deliver high quality eyecare at affordable prices at people’s doorsteps.

Give us an insight on the company’s investment plans for bringing cutting edge technology in SMILE, FemtoLaser and Robotic Cataract Surgery? And how such tech expertise will help the company to grow multi-fold?
Robotics in eyecare, specially cataract surgery, is making a huge difference in terms of accuracy, better outcomes and addressing the shortage of skilled manpower. Additionally, I see SMILE and FemtoLaser becoming more popular and making a huge difference. Lucentis is picking up to help prevent decreased vision and blindness. In the years to come, virtual reality devices are expected to play a key role in detection of glaucoma.

The company holds a strong presence in the southern market and expanding its presence in other regions as well, how do you maintain the competition in the market and what is the USP of your centres?
The Dr Agarwal Eye Hospital Group has been at the forefront of innovation in the field of ophthalmology with procedures such as glued IOL (to treat patients with complicated lens problems), PDEK (an ultra-modern form of corneal transplants) and PhakoNIT (removal of cataract through a sub 1mm incision). The latest invention from the group is a novel technique called “Single-Pass Four Throw” (SFT) along with “Pin Hole Pupilloplasty”, which is also referred to as PPP. The surgical technique is being used to help in pupillary reconstruction as well as to treat complicated cases of narrow angle glaucoma. The company has an organised section of doctors that are part of what is called as the Clinical Board that deals with strategic planning for patient outcomes, patient safety and ensuring that the doctors are well educated and trained for taking on new skills needed for the job. The group also offers a DNB (postgraduate) programme and various fellowship programmes to train young, budding surgeons. The USP of the hospital group is to provide the best quality eyecare with best-in-class patient service.

What steps are you taking in order to create a brand awareness among the masses?
We constantly reach out to patients through screening campaigns, awareness talks at schools and workplaces. We circulate brochures, pamphlets and we like to educate about diseases, prevention and cure. The brand also invests heavily in above the line media activities like outdoor, TV campaigns and radio campaigns. Patient awareness and communication is an ongoing exercise for the group.

The company has its international presence in Africa, which are the new geographies on your card and why?
Yes, we have 13 centres in Africa now. The local government has been very supportive of our presence there. We are looking at deepening our footprint in existing geographies like Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria.

You were looking for strategic partnerships, acquisitions and greenfield hospitals, what is the development update on this?
There are projects in the pipeline and are confidential. We have tied up with Advanced Eye Institute in Navi Mumbai and Mirlay Eye Care in Bengaluru as the first step in this financial year.

Please share your future outlook, plans for next three years.
We would definitely be the largest eyecare chain in the private sector in India with a robust global presence. Our brand presence would be fortified further, and we would always be on the forefront of innovation and cutting edge technology. From 350 doctors, we would have 700 doctors and around 10,000 employees from 3,500 at present- in five years’ time and would strive to reach a footprint of 150 hospitals.

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