Madhusudan Chauhan agrees. At its very core, Ayurveda is personalized medicine, and unlike modern science, it focuses on how every human being is different, he says. To this end, Jiva has developed an artificial intelligence tool that prompts doctors with questions for patients during consultations. The tool records patients’ answers, symptoms, and health records, and then suggests treatment. Although the final decision for treatment rests with the doctors, the digital platform standardizes the practice of Ayurveda to a large extent.
There are, however, challenges to standardization. Recruiting doctors, for instance. Most students, says Madhusudhan Chauhan, only end up in Ayurveda because they couldn’t get into modern medicine medical colleges. This results in ayurvedic doctors looking to “allopathise” Ayurveda by following the same approach as modern medicine—using a combination of drugs to address the symptoms. Except instead of drugs, they use strong herbal concoctions.
Abide by the Protocols
Only one in 10 doctors, says Chauhan, is willing to abide by Jiva’s standardized protocols and treatments. Once recruited, each doctor undergoes a six-month-long training before they can practice, he adds.
Vasudevan also struggled to achieve standardization. Today, he has established a standardized process for inpatient care that works in tandem with modern hospitals. “We have a very clear protocol on which patient needs to seek modern care first and which ones we can treat,” says Vasudevan. Today, AyurVAID has eight hospitals with 170 beds in total. As of the last financial year, three of its hospitals have tied up with Medanta and Aster hospitals. Now, says Vasudevan, hospitals are approaching us.
Now that he has a standardized, scalable and replicable model for both a standalone or a hospital inside a hospital, Vasudevan is looking for funding to grow. In the next five years, he hopes, AyurVAID will boast at least 500 beds.
Really a golden goose?
Standardized Ayurveda as a service is a golden goose as far as the healthcare market is concerned, Vasudevan believes. Most of the old companies—Zandu, Himalaya, and Baidyanath—built their fortunes off of standardized products. However, ayurvedic services have, over the years, positioned themselves as spa businesses. This, he adds, killed the golden goose.
In 2010, Vasudevan, who represents CII’s core group on Ayurveda alongside the likes of Jiva, convinced the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH) to establish standards for ayurvedic practice and accredit hospitals and clinics. Ever since Ayurveda fortunes have been on the upswing.
In 2014, the ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy) was formed by the government, and in December 2016, insurers were allowed to impanel NABH-accredited Ayurveda hospitals for cashless insurance. Insurance approvals are no longer an issue, says Vasudevan. Ayurveda as a healthcare service finally became a mainstream market in 2017, when the central government health scheme (CGHS) accepted it after a groundswell of demand.
Promotive care offered
Ayurveda always had potential in preventive and promotive care; it has just been hidden, insists Vasudevan.
An Ayurveda department’s biggest challenge isn’t necessarily the modern hospital. Instead, it is the fact that patients simply aren’t referred to them. Doctors are unlikely to refer patients to an Ayurveda department, says a former CXO with a Delhi-based corporate hospital, who was involved in developing a wellness wing for the hospital.
In the case of Medanta, an AyurVAID hospital was established within Medanta itself. However, since it was established just three months ago, it is too early to tell if doctors are referring to a decent number of patients. Some of AyurVAID’s standalone hospitals though have grown to have up to 90% occupancy as referrals have increased and Ayurveda has grown in popularity among patients.
Ayurveda can help arrest diseases such as arthritis, diabetes or asthma at an early stage, thereby positioning it as a viable option for preventive care. This is a huge market. For instance, says Vasudevan, about 800,000 people in Bengaluru are pre-diabetics, with half of them likely to become diabetics. Ayurveda can also assist hospitals with rehabilitating patients of heart attack, stroke or cancer.