Defaulting to the Pharmaceutical

~ Take a couple of Aspirin and come see me in the morning ~ A Doctor

Recently, NUS Business School produced a video which featured, besides Singapore Airlines and one or two other companies, the Narayana Hrudayalaya Heart Hospital in Bangalore, India. What had happened was that the hospital had industrialized open-heart surgery to the nth degree, resulting in far better recovery rates delivered at much lower cost than in either the US or Singapore. Infants requiring heart surgery were given individualized care on a 24-hour basis, meaning each infant had one or two nurses assigned just to that infant. In effect, the nurses undertook the role of surrogate mothers. This would cost a lot less than having an infant come back to the Operating Theater for more surgery due to complications likely to arise from other than individualized care.

Narayana HC Screen shot

In cases like that, specialization is of course the way to go. However, open-heart surgery is not typical life. It does not have to be and it should not be. This post is called “Defaulting to the Pharmaceutical” because that is exactly how we behave in everyday life. We look for specialists for basically everything. Child care, meals, cleaning, laundry, health, spirituality, mirth, you name it. We do this in the name of “progress”, so that we can then be “freed” to pursue “the finer things in life.” Rubbish. Most of the time it is for self-indulgence, for avarice, in fact. People are not designed to live on narrow fronts. We are designed to function on broad fronts, having a wide variety of interests and perhaps indulging a few of those interests at different seasons of life. For most people, outsourcing basic functions would not be for the sake of seeking a higher order for the good of mankind. It would be following the philosophy of convenience for one-of-a-kind.

EyesA parallel to the Narayana Hospital example is that of an opthalmologist who spent many years performing corneal replacement surgery in a Third World country, often with little to none of the accompanying instruments, fluids, swabs and other paraphernalia taken for granted in a modern hospital. After many years, it was time for this opthalmologist to return home. However, no one was found to replace the outgoing opthalmologist and yet the need for corneal replacements remained high. The solution? This opthalmologist got his local assistant to take over! The assistant had helped in many hundreds, if not thousands, of corneal replacement procedures and could probably have executed the same procedure himself, sans medical certification and all. The outgoing opthalmologist got his assistant to perform a few procedures under his direct supervision. Then, having satisfied himself that his assistant would indeed “do no harm” and would, in fact, be able to be of great help to many sufferers, he gave his blessings to his assistant and left for home when the time came, knowing that patients would be in good hands.

In both these examples, specialization saves lives at reduced cost more efficiently with higher success rates and lower morbidity as well. However, if you were told that your surgeon at Narayana had only been exposed to cardiac procedures all his life, you might get a little nervous. I know I would. It would be more comforting to know that, even as your surgeon has passionately developed more competencies in the area of cardiac surgery all his life, he has taken the time to at least keep abreast of developments in other fields of medicine as well. In the case of the “barefoot opthalmologist”, perhaps it is better to have a barefoot surgeon than no surgeon at all.

In sum, let us live life holistically. Let us not default to the pharmaceutical when robust common sense and self-discipline would have ensured that, by and large, we stayed healthy. We would not have to take so many pills if we would only love people, be diligent, be responsible, eat moderately and indulge in physical labour more often.

Think about it! Is your business addicted to pills? Is it surviving on quick-fixes when it could be feasting on a sumptuous spread? Is it languishing in its sick bed when it could be chasing sheep in the field? Have you focused so much on “surgical strike” operations that you have forgotten the core reasons for your business? Take some time to set one things straight right now! Oh, but hang on, it’s time for your weight-loss pills! What’s that? You forgot your insulin jab?


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