More than 10,000 patients, 1,500 surgeries, and six eye camps involving another 1,500 patients - that is a typical day at Aravind Eye Hospitals. As of March this year, the Madurai-based eye-care provider had examined 35 million out-patients and performed 4.3 million surgeries since 1976 when its late founder Dr G. Venkataswamy set up an 11-bed hospital.
Today, the eye-care chain runs five large hospitals, five secondary-care centres and 42 primary-care hospitals across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.
What is unique about the hospital chain? It examines and operates most patients for free. In 2011/12, it conducted 228,000 cataract surgeries, of which 70 per cent were free. But this is done in a financially sustainable manner which allows the hospital - run as a trust - to function and expand without resorting to borrowings or donations.
The hospital chain - named after the philosopher Sri Aurobindo - has over the years successfully adopted a business model that blends a social cause (what government hospitals do) with quality health-care (a forte of corporate hospitals). In fact, Venkataswamy was steadfast in his aim of never refusing treatment to a patient. The poor were given free treatment while those who could afford to pay were charged.
"Our mission is quality vision at a cost that people can afford. If they cannot afford at all, we give them vision free," says Dr P. Namperumalsamy, Chairman Emeritus, Aravind Eye Hospitals. No proof of income is sought, and even paying patients are charged based on the comfort they seek.