Seva-HV Desai IBD Team – Clare Schroder, Laura Stewart, Lizzie Faust, Rene Castro, Santiago Marchiori.
Altruism. It is the defining characteristic of those we have met here in India working for the HV Desai Eye Hospital (HVD). Two months ago the Seva-HVD Haas IBD team came together in pursuit of financial sustainability for the non-profit eye hospital. HVD aims to prevent needless blindness regardless of one’s ability to pay, and they do so through subsidizing those unable to pay with the profits from those able to pay, as well as donations. In India, this model is not unique to HVD, yet it is far less common in our own countries of Argentina, Chile, and the U.S. HVD’s tireless dedication to this work is evident in the significant time they have spent supporting our work here in India. Their goodness comes through in their hospitality, ensuring our own comfort and enjoyment of the city. A hospital board member even welcomed us to his chocolate factory on Sunday, where we indulged in chocolate, organic foods, ice cream, a hike, a temple visit, and a local village wedding.
The groom, a family member, and the bride
At the wedding, we quickly came to realize this was the marriage between poorer members of society, the people HVD seeks to help. And while we were unprepared for the wedding and had nothing to offer, the bride’s family gifted each of us with a coconut.
Overwhelming altruism isn’t the only new experience we’ve had in India. We’ve tried unfamiliar foods (our stomachs regretting only a small percentage), learned burping in public is socially acceptable, and seen eyeballs in the eye bank.
Col. Deshpande showing us a cornea in the eye bank
We have also experienced the famous (or infamous?) Indian head shake/nod/wiggle. We had heard from our pre-departure cultural interviews that the quirky motion indicates agreement, meaning yes or please continue, so during our day of arrival presentation we felt prepared when the head shakes began.
We quickly took a nose-dive though, as the head shake changed to an inexplicably clear “no” head motion. How did we get the number of people blind in India wrong? Was our average cost of surgery that off? As each of us presented, we panicked in the same way, over explaining the more vigorously they shook their heads “no.” Our cultural interviews hadn’t prepared us for this – thanks Arun.
We progressed into our first week still uncertain about the head shaking, but happy to be in country, seeing the hospital we had heard so much about. We worked alongside doctors to brainstorm patient experience improvements, visited competing hospitals, and conducted over 20 patient interviews.
Laura, Clare, and Santi doing some PFPS-style brainstorming with 7 residents
Santi interviewing a patient
During those interviews, we began with, “How was your experience at HV Desai?” Head shake.
“Your experience has been ‘yes’? Could you elaborate on that?” It was after this interview, a few days in, that we mustered the courage to ask why people so often vehemently disagreed with us with their head shake while affirming yes verbally. We learned any head motion is a sign of agreement and we felt much better about our first week.
The patients have confirmed that HV Desai has incredible eyecare quality, value for money, the most advanced technology, and the most experienced doctors. We rarely heard about their altruism or their charity playing an important role in the eyecare provider selection process for the paying patients, the patients we need to attract more of to achieve financial sustainability. This finding is one we’ve seen not only in patient interviews, but also through industry research. Moreover, patient surveys and Hospital Management Information System (HMIS) data analysis have revealed the importance of amenities and eye lens differences. Again, not charity.
Here we are, five business students in India telling a nonprofit hospital to change their branding for the paying segment from a focus on charity to a focus on quality and affordability.
Santi, Lizzie, Clare, Rene, and Laura being tourists, led by Outreach Coordinator Pravine
Unlike the staff and management, the altruism is not our target segment’s main motivator for eyecare. Our job now is to convince leadership that in addition to a shift in branding, building upon and reinforcing the most important needs of the paying patient – specific amenities, price transparency, shorter wait times, eyecare excellence – will create financial sustainability. Growing profits is not just for corporations, but also for a nonprofit hospital that can now provide even more free surgeries to those unable to pay.