Friday, January 18, 2013

Vision of Dr. V

Tina Rosenberg has a longish post in NYTimes' Opinionator blog about the late Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy's brainchild, the Aravind Eye Care System -- a network of eye hospitals and small storefront 'vision centers' in many parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala:

At Aravind’s hospitals, free patients lodge on a mat on the floor in a 30-person dormitory. Paying patients can choose various levels of luxury, including private, air-conditioned rooms. All patients get best-practice cataract surgeries, but paying patients can choose more sophisticated surgeries with faster recoveries (but not higher success rates). The doctors are identical, rotating between the free and paid wings. [...]

Doctors are hard to find and expensive, so the surgical system is set up to get the most out of them. Patients are prepared before surgery and bandaged afterwards by Aravind-trained nurses. The operating room has two tables. The doctor performs a surgery — perhaps 5 minutes — on Table 1, sterilizes her hands and turns to Table 2. Meanwhile, a new patient is prepped on Table 1. Aravind doctors do more than 2,000 surgeries a year; the average at other Indian hospitals is around 300. As for quality, Aravind’s rate of surgical complications is half that of eye hospitals in Britain.

This volume is key to Aravind’s ability to offer free care. The building and staff costs are the same no matter how many surgeries each doctor performs. High volume means that these fixed costs are spread among vastly more people.

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A previous post (written the day after the great man passed away in 2006) has many more links about Dr. V.