by Lakshmy Venkiteswaran on  June 9, 2015 at 5:02 PM Medindia Exclusive - Interviews and In depth Reports
Medicall – India’s Biggest Marketplace for Medical Equipment
The Indian healthcare industry, which comprises of hospitals, medical devices, clinical trials, outsourcing, telemedicine, medical tourism, health insurance and medical equipment, is considered to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the country. From $40 billion in 2010, trade pundits predict a compound annual growth rate of 17% ($280 billion) by 2020, and therefore, most likely to become one of the top three healthcare markets in the world. And as per the report by Indian Hospital Services Market Outlook by consultancy RNCOS, these numbers also reflect the role of private sector players - India's hospital industry - which comprises around 80% of the total market.

Dr.S. Manivannan, Founder-Director of Kauvery Hospitals and a senior consultant Anesthesiologist and Intensivist with over a decade of clinical experience in this field, has been instrumental in providing visibility to this sector through Medicall exhibitions. Medicall, over the years has become the largest exhibition for medical equipment in the country. The 13th edition of the three-day exhibition will begin on July 31 in Chennai and this will be followed by one in Mumbai from Oct 9-11.

Medicall's Humble Beginnings & Growth

What began as a one-day event in Tiruchy (a small city 300km south of Chennai) 11 years ago has grown into a massive three-day show with over 500 companies participating annually. "Tiruchy is small town-like city; equipment manufacturers do not come there," begins Dr.Manivannan. "My brothers and I (all first generation doctors) used to travel all across India to attend small conferences and exhibitions. During one of my conferences, I got the idea of conducting an exhibition in Tiruchy...let's just give it a shot was my instinct then."

His instincts were proved right when Medicall made its debut in 2004 in Tiruchy. "There were just 60 exhibitors then but a lot of doctors and healthcare professionals were impressed with Medicall, and this encouraged me to do it again," adds Dr.Manivannan. With just one more employee for assistance, he came to Chennai the following year and organized Medicall at Raja Muthiah Hall. "There were 70-plus companies who erected stalls there and hundreds of doctors attended the event. That's how Medicall became an annual event."

So far, he has conducted exhibitions in Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai and also Colombo (Sri Lanka) but he finds Chennai to be the most mature market in India. "Compared to the northern states, South India is far more open and adaptable to newer technologies. Hospital owners are interested in buying high-end equipment and willing to risk high investments for giving quality care. Exhibition in Colombo was a success too but political tensions were high; so I didn't go back there after that."

Medicall slowly gained momentum in the medical community, and soon, it outgrew the space of Raja Muthiah Hall. Over the last few years, it has been held in Chennai Trade Centre. "Last year, over 500 companies participated and we had almost 7,000 visitors. Of this, 60% were hospital owners from Mumbai, Delhi, and also the 4 southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala."

Medicall's visitors and exhibitors from India are mostly from the South. Does the North-South divide permeate the healthcare sector too? Dr.Manivannan is visibly surprised at the question. "Ofcourse not!" he says vehemently. "In my experience, I've never met anyone from North or Northeast India who is NOT impressed with the healthcare facilities of the South. They have a lot of respect for our talent and capacity and trust us a great deal."

India's 'Last-Minute' Fetish

It takes several months of planning to organize an exhibition of this scale and logistics are a nightmare. But Dr.Manivannan's pet peeve is the lack of discipline ingrained in the Indian psyche, which he says, "drives me up the wall! Indian companies that participate in the exhibition leave the details to the last minute. So a few days prior to the exhibition, the scene is chaotic at best. Foreign companies are amazing in their planning and discipline. German companies, for instance, send the design of their booth(s) two months in advance. Their workers start building stalls a week before the exhibition. At least 12-15 hours before Day 1 of Medicall, these workers complete their task, go back to their rooms, relax and attend the next day looking fresh. Now, why can't our companies follow this?"

Seminars and Conferences

Other than stalls and booths for dealers and distributors, Medicall also conducts several seminars and conferences for the medical community on hospital management. "The medical curriculum in India teaches you to become a doctor, but there's not a single chapter on hospital management. So, some of the best doctors in their respective fields are lousy managers. The conferences I organize are attended by hospital owners and several of their admin staff."

Some of the topics covered are lean six sigma in healthcare, hospital architecture and construction, funding, finance, human resources, patient safety, legal issues and audits, communication strategies, customer service, marketing& PR, use of technology, clinic management, mobile healthcare, and more.

Doctors, hospital owners, admin staff and other medical practitioners can attend the seminars for a nominal registration fee. There are no freebies, lunches or banquets at Medicall; it's a purely business conference.

Dr.Manivannan highlights an incident that took place several years ago where a doctor credited Medicall for his success. "This orthopedic surgeon from Pune told me that seminars at Medicall gave him the confidence to build a hospital. Last year, at the FICCI Healthcare Excellence Awards, the chief doctor of Government Hospital in Thiruvannamalai said he bought all his new equipment for the hospital at Medicall." He claims that any hospital owner from South India would have visited Medicall at least once in the last 3 years.

The biggest challenge, according to him, is convincing more doctors to visit his exhibition. "Notwithstanding colorful brochures, healthcare innovation awards, and seminars, doctors are a tough bunch to please. So to motivate them, we'll have a car rally this year for doctors alone. Last year, I invited students from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, to design hospital garments for patients, nurses, and even doctors. It was a huge hit."

Government Support Crucial

Dr.Manivannan is a frequent visitor of Medica, the world's largest medical trade fair held annually in Germany. The 4-day trade fair is annually held in Düsseldorf and this year, it is expecting more than a million people from across 100 countries and 5,000-plus exhibitors to participate. "There are bus stops and railway stations built inside the grounds! The sheer scale of it is mindboggling but it would not have been possible without government support. If you buy one ticket to Medica, all public transportation (buses, trams, trains and cabs) are free - including pick-up and drop to airport until the fair is over. For the CMEF (China Medical Equipment Fair) in Shanghai, registered visitors were given travel fare and accommodation. In Hong Kong, it's smaller but similar incentives are given. But in India, just getting a license is an ordeal," he avers.

Bureaucratic hiccups and a lack of government support are some of the reasons most of the products and devices exhibited in Medicall are from foreign companies. "More than 80% of all critical care equipment used in the Indian healthcare market is manufactured abroad. Any technologically advanced and high value equipment like CT scans and MRI machines come from foreign companies and most low end products like operating tables, patient beds, wheelchairs, stretchers, ambulances, baby products, hospital beds and other related stuff are manufactured in India," he explains. "Maybe, in a decade there could be improvement in manufacturing but as of now there's barely any scope for R&D in our country. Besides, India is a very price-sensitive market. So, a lot of low-end or companies with lesser priced products and devices come here."

The opportunities in the healthcare market extend beyond the Indian shores due to the cost advantage of medical goods from India. Our pharma industry has already shown the way forward and it is now the turn of our hardware medical manufacturing market. The need of the hour is for the central and the state governments to partner in such projects to give this sector a much-needed boost.

The 13th edition of Medicall B2B expo is going on at the Chennai Trade Centre. The last day in Chennai is August 2. The three-day expo will also be held in Mumbai from October 9.

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