‘We want to deliver eye-care to doorstep’

Vision engineering runs in this family. A small step to provide eye care during the late 1950s turned into a giant leap given the rapid strides taken by Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital.
‘We want to deliver eye-care to doorstep’
Dr Amar Agarwal, CMD, Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital (Illustration by Varghese Kallada)

Chennai

Started as a small eye-care centre in 1957 by doctor parents — Dr Jaiveer Agarwal along with Dr Tahira Agarwal; Dr Amar Agarwal has followed their footsteps in right earnest transforming it into a corporate chain hospital which has an inflow of patients flocking in from all parts of the world. 
Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital is present in more than one continent today. Sixteen of its 70 hospitals are in Africa and one of them in the Far East in Cambodia, says CMD Amar Agarwal, who seems as comfortable with wearing the hat of a doctor as that of an entrepreneur too! “Our idea is to deliver eye care to the doorstep. There is a huge need among people. Imagine, out of 12 million blind population, about 55 per cent are caused by cataract. If we provide vision for these numbers, that alone will be a big help,” he said. 
Highlighting the use of the hub-and-spoke model that has built the reputation of the hospital chain over time, he said in Chennai alone, there are 17 eye hospitals where the footfall of patients is over 10,000 per day.
“We perform 10,000 surgeries a month and our aim is to become a 200-hospital network in India by 2020 as part of our efforts to reach a larger base of people,” said Dr Amar, noting that diabetes, genetic disorders, consanguine relationships and freak accidents were among the key reasons for losing vision. 
According to him, advanced technology and medical solutions are available today that people should be exposed to. For instance, he was able to restore the vision of musician Shankar Ganesh who had been blind for 28 years owing to a cracker explosion. “The glued IOL technique and PDEK procedure – eye transplantation process (where 25 micron tissues thinner than hair is used), have been tried and proved to be successful. An 18-year-old girl during a bomb blast in a bakery in Iraq had her vision restored after the shrapnel was removed using the glued IOL procedure when she was 40 years… imagine her joy at seeing her two children,” he said. 
Refractive power correction, SMILE – which is more advanced than Lasik laser procedure and various emerging technologies are available to the people, he said, citing the latest instance of Alleppo attacks in Syria, when both the infected eyes of an 18-year-old had to be transplanted. 
“We are also the largest group operating in Africa as we found a need there. We will having 30 to 40 more hospitals in that country as it serves as a hub for people from nearby places such as Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya,” said Dr Amar, adding that an equal emphasis is being given to the evolution in health care in the domestic market. “People from the Middle East and SAARC nations too come here for treatment,” he said, pointing out that 10 per cent of its patient base constitutes overseas ones. 
Ask him about the books he reads, the people who inspire him and the formula for their success as an eye-care chain and he says he has always been immersed in ophthalmology and authored several books apart from publishing research papers. “My parents are my inspiration. They donated both their eyes. Within 6 hours of their departure, we (meaning his doctor wife) did the transplant on a poor patient and seeing their happiness once the vision was restored gave us so much joy. It is this happiness that keeps me going,” said Dr Amar. 
He goes on to cite an interesting anecdote. “About four years ago, at Stockholm, when I got into a taxi, conversation with the driver led me to say that I was there to attend an eye conference in Sweden. To my surprise, he said he was looking for a doctor named Dr Amar Agarwal; little realising that I was the person he was referring to! When I did reveal it, he was quick to mention about his sister who needed a specialised treatment,” said Dr Amar, adding in a lighter vein that the driven gave him free rides throughout his stay! His four sons – Adil, Ashwin, Anosh and Ashar are doctors, who have taken the roles of CEO, Medical Director, Finance and Retina specialist steering Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital. The father is now content to play second fiddle. “They are running the company and two of my sons have MBA degrees from Harvard and Stanford. So they are best suited for the job,” said the proud father.

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