A Heart Surgery at 2 Percent the Cost

Coronary bypass surgery costs $106,835 at the Cleveland Clinic, a renowned hospital in the namesake Ohio town. Devi Shetty, a social entrepreneur and famous Indian heart surgeon (he served as Mother Teresa’s personal physician), can do the same procedure at any of his 21 medical centers for an astounding $1,583. Against the backdrop of a health industry that has ballooned in cost, how has he managed to blow every American site out of the water?

Part of this inexpensive price arises from the location. In India, heart surgeries never cost $100,000; twenty years ago, they cost roughly double what they do in Shetty’s medical centers (e.g. around $3,000). In addition, $1,583 represents a significant cost in a country where two-thirds of its people survive on two dollars a day.

He begins with infrastructure, installing air conditioners only in intensive-care units and operating rooms. He then cuts excessive pre-op procedures, including a urine test whose rate of finding dangerous bacteria was effectively marginal. Lastly, he exploits the market. Not only has he leveraged his 21 centers to create an economy of scale, he’s also, for instance,opted to buy from a group of Bangalore entrepreneurs who were charging 40% as much as European competitors. Through this, he has lead his Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital to some of the cheapest professional care in the world.

While such practices would raise eyebrows in the U.S., his novel methods give hope to a country implementing health care reform. Many fear the transition because many fear rising costs, which even after Obamacare are still causing bankruptcies. While Dr. Shetty is primarily concerned with India (a country whose citizens he estimates receive 1,800,000 less heart surgeries annually than they should), he may have illuminated a way to help other, more developed countries. And at the very least, his entrepreneurship provides a blueprint for cutting back on costs in order to prove care for those who cannot afford the best.

But just how low can the doctor lower costs? Shetty has no intentions of stopping at $1,583. He hopes to get basic heart surgery as low as $800 in ten years, though he’s depending on some outside factors to help him. Shetty expects more Asian electronics companies to enter the market for medical supplies and thus reduce costs. He also believes an increase in specialists in India will allow for a cheaper but just as qualified applicant pool.

In the meantime, Dr. Shetty has found a way to save lives, make money, and show up the first world. For a deep inside look at his way of saving a heart for less gold, Al Jazeera English documented his procedures and some patients, below.


”Heart Surgery in India for $1,583 costs $106,385 in U.S. ,” Ketaki Gokhale, Bloomberg.com

Todd Faulkenberry

An avid supporter of Arsenal FC and a recent graduate of Amherst College, Todd Faulkenberry is now a statistic of America’s unemployment rate. When he isn’t curled up in his bed watching a new television drama, you can find Todd feigning productivity at the Barnes & Noble in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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