Aravind Eye Hospital 1

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  • Topic: Surgery, Ophthalmology, Cataract surgery
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The Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, India In Service for Sight

Professor V. Kasturi Rangan Rev: June 7, 1993

Harvard Business School

N9- 593- 098
Rev June 7, 1993

The Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, India: In Service for Sight I (the casewriter) arrived early at 7.00 a.m. at the outpatient department of the Aravind Eye Hospital at Madurai, India. My sponsor, Thulasi (R.D. Thulasiraj, hospital administrator) was expecting me at 8.00 o’clock, but I came early to observe the patient flow. More than 100 people formed two lines. Two young women, assisted by a third, were briskly registering the patients at the reception counter. They asked a few key questions: “Which village do you come from?” “Where do you live?” “What’s your age?” and a few more, but it all took less than two minutes per patient. The women seemed very comfortable with the computer and its data-entry procedures. Their supervisor, a somewhat elderly man with grey hair, was hunched over, gently nudging and helping them along with the registration process. He looked up and spotted me. I was the only man in that crowd who wore western-style trousers and shoes. The rest wore the traditional South Indian garment (“dhoti” or “veshti”), and many were barefooted they could not afford “slippers”. The old man hobbled from the registration desk and made his way towards me. The 50-foot distance must have taken him 10 minutes to make because he paused every now and then to answer a question here or help a patient there. I took a step forward, introduced myself, and asked to be guided to Thulasi’s office. “Yes, we were expecting you” he said with an impish smile and walked me to the right wing of the hospital where all the administrative offices were. He ushered me into his office and pointed me to the couch across from his desk. It was only when I noticed his crippled fingers that I realized this grand old man was Dr. Venkataswamy himself, the 74-years-old ophthalmic surgeon who had founded the Aravind Eye Hospital and built it from 20 beds in 1976 to one of the biggest hospitals of its kind in the world in 1992, with 1,400 beds. Dr. V. spoke slowly and with a childlike sense of curiosity and excitement: Tell me, can cataract surgery be marketed like hamburgers? Don’t you call it social marketing or something? See, in America, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts and Pizza Hut have all mastered the art of mass marketing. We have to do something like that to clear the backlog of 20 million blind eyes in India. We Professor V. Kasturi Rangan prepared this case as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administration situation. Copyright © 1993 by the President and Fellow of Harvard College. To order copies, call (617) 495-6117 or write the Publishing Division, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA 02163. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means-electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise-without the permission of Harvard Business School. 1

The Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, India: In Service for Sight

Updated February 2006

perform only one million cataract surgeries a year. At this rate we cannot catch up. Modern communications through satellites is reaching every nook and corner of the globe. Even an old man like me from a small village in India knows of Michael Jackson and Magic Johnson. [At this point Dr. V. knew that he had surprised me. He suppressed a smile and proceeded.] Why can’t we bring eyesight to the masses of poor people in India. Asia, Africa and all over the world? I would like to do that in my lifetime. How do you think we should do it? “I’m not sure,” I responded, completely swept away and exhausted by the grand vision of this giant human being. But I don’t think he wanted an answer that did not match his immense enthusiasm. Like...
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