Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy is a cardiologist and entrepreneur. He founded Apollo Hospital in Chennai in 1979, and grew it to a chain of corporate hospitals, 38 owned and 13 managed, treating patients from 120 countries. This book shows us how Apollo created opportunities that brought Indian doctors settled abroad back to India, and by investing in technology, helped specialists to advance professionally. It credits Dr Reddy with introducing a culture of competence, and a more soothing environment into Indian hospitals; implementing emergency services; and influencing Tamil Nadu to develop the most advanced ‘cadaver policy’ in India.
Dr Reddy comes across as kind, sensible and generous to colleagues. He meditates and prays daily — but is also influenced by mythology, astrology and godmen. An entrepreneur and innovator from a young age, he made a fundamental business mistake when expanding into Sri Lanka. When two of his four daughters wanted to be doctors, he discouraged them. Now, he would like one of his grandsons to become one. Once a fussy eater, he was difficult to cook for, and people would ‘tremble’ at his sometimes petulant behaviour in reaction to a dish he didn’t like. Working at Massachusetts General in Boston in the 1960s, he was once slapped by a patient enraged at being treated by an Indian doctor. Dr Reddy’s boss wanted the patient discharged; Dr Reddy convinced him not to react to the bad behaviour and treat the patient kindly.
Healer also has information about healthcare in India and anecdotes about well-known personalities. We learn about organ transplants and innovations such as robotic surgery. Charming footnotes provide context when required. However, the challenges of raising standards of clinical care and JCI accreditation are not described. Controversial topics such as vaccinations, the impact of health insurance and tort, and concerns of access and affordability for the majority, are skirted.
Presented as the author’s year-long journey in writing, Healer includes irrelevant descriptions of each interview: the interiors of Sheila Dikshit’s ‘lovely bungalow in the Lutyens Zone in New Delhi’; the CV of the architect of Apollo and information about his leisure pursuits; lyrics of a song New York financier Richard Cashin sang at a Chennai cocktail party; and more. The interviews are weighted with banal hallelujahs: “Dr Reddy possesses great strength of character”; “it is rare to find a leader with such infectious enthusiasm and high principles as Dr Reddy”; “a handsome man with exquisitely polite manners”; “the so-called learning curve happens faster at Apollo than anywhere else I have seen”; and dozens more. Pruning these and the rather excessive repetition (that Dr Reddy’s granddaughter married ‘superstar’ Chiranjeevi’s son appears four times) would have made Healer easier on the wrist.
This book also succumbs to what Patrick French calls “the distorting lens of the present”, using phrases like “back in the 1970s” and providing long lists of recent associates. Technology new in 2013 will soon recede; to specify that a “technique is truly revolutionizing spinal surgery” is to ensure that a book will soon be outdated.
Saaz Aggarwal is a writer and corporate biographer. She lives in Pune.