Featured today in our exclusive series of interviews – Business Leaders’Perspectives – Dr Deep Makkar, General Manager, NMC Healthcare, shares how this healthcare facility, despite setbacks, kept working steadfastly in the interest of serving the community. Excerpts:
‘Human lives are important and we shall always remain at the forefront in providing for the medical needs of the community.’
What is your brief assessment of the position of your company in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the peak season of Ramadan when business in Oman faced a challenge like never before?
NMC Healthcare Oman has three specialty hospitals in Muscat, besides many other medical and cosmetic centres. We did face a very tough time when the lockdown started; hospitals were only allowed to do emergency procedures and, as elective procedures were stopped, our business was down by more than 50%. All our cosmetic centres had to close as those procedures were not allowed. However, we must appreciate the Ministry of Health which gave us guidelines, and after a month, private hospitals were allowed to do all procedures/surgeries. This started helping us in getting back to serve all patients. Hospitals are facing challenges as the HR cost is too high, being a service industry, but we have to be optimistic and face the challenges.
What plans/strategies did you adopt to maintain your operations during the lockdown period over the past 2-3 months? How beneficial did this prove to be?
We were struggling to maintain costs in April, but after some positive decisions from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower, we were able to reduce some of the manpower cost, which not only helped the company to stabilise due to cash deficits but also helped the employees as we avoided job losses. Employees are our greatest asset and we try our best to keep them motivated always. Similarly, our employees also supported the company and helped in treating the patients in the best possible manner, despite COVID-19 stress, as they are all frontline workers.
Looking ahead, what are your immediate and short-term plans that you believe will help the company recalibrate and move forward with renewed purpose?
Efficiency is the key in these tough times, we need to remain lean, yet maintain the highest level of services without compromise. We have started treating COVID-19 patients as there is an acute shortage of beds for COVID-19 patients. Hence, being a responsible company, we immediately prepared ourselves for COVID-19 treatment. Human lives are important and being in the healthcare sector, we shall always remain at the forefront in providing for the medical needs of the community.
Our short-term plan is to keep all medical services open to patients and deliver in an efficient manner without compromise on the quality.
What immediate changes are required in your workplaces, with regard to physical infrastructure, employee welfare, work culture and business promotion, in view of new guidelines related to COVID-19 (social distancing, hygiene/sanitation, health and fitness)?
We did change in infrastructure in many areas, like the COVID-19 in-patient ward has a unidirectional pathway and separated from non-COVID-19 in-patient wards in all manners, including air conditioning, so that there is no chance of cross infection, for the safety of our patients and employees. Our business promotion went digital as we focused more on social media while meetings with companies and internal staff meetings were held more on phone and by conference calls. Also, waiting areas/queues needed to be arranged in a manner to have social distancing in place.
What do you see as the most feasible solutions for mitigating losses experienced due to the lockdown (cost-cutting measures, downsizing staff, enhancing performance, increasing work hours, any other). Do you consider these as short-term or long term measures?
This actually varies industry wise as hospitals are human capital intensive but retail is not. For the service industry, downsizing staff/reduction in salary is possible, whereas in retail, I believe, controlling the supply chain and reducing the rentals is appropriate. This, of course, should be short term, and once the business is back to normal, all these measures should be rolled back.
What are your primary concerns regarding building/maintaining your company image, post-COVID-19, as well as improving performance to regain connections and trust with your consumers/clients?
With the cost cutting measures and less number of staff, it is always imperative to keep the quality of service prime. In fact, this is the time when you should improvise on the services and, with all restrictions and social distancing, we need to make sure our customers feel comfortable, despite following all COVID-19 guidelines. Primarily in healthcare, we need to make sure we take care of all our patient needs in this stressful time, and post COVID-19, these patients would become your most loyal patients.
Did you have the option of working from home for your staff during the lockdown and to what extent was it helpful? Will you continue to offer that option as part of your new strategy?
Being in a service oriented industry, this option was very limited, only to a few admin staff. However, clinical staff do not have this option of work from home. Therefore, it was not relevant to the healthcare industry.
What lessons were learnt from this crisis that would help redefine your corporate goals as well as helping your company experience sustained growth in the years ahead?
The prime lesson learnt is that the system should be modular, where the staff and infrastructure should immediately adapt with the changing needs and not stick to same old routine always. We should keep on changing with the patient needs, as this also helps in adoption of a dynamic environment easily, else we would be left behind in the competition.
What additional challenges do you anticipate in 2020/2021 and would you now place greater emphasis on risk management so that you are not caught offguard again?
As of today, predicting the end of COVID-19 is not easy and it shall remain for minimum a year. The first and foremost risk management strategy is to keep the cost low and focus on cash management, as well, so that in case there is a second wave of COVID-19 or restrictions on business due to some other reasons, we should be able to survive for at least three months.
In your opinion, how important it is for staff to undergo training to realign themselves with the company’s policies/new strategies as well as to immerse themselves in a new work culture that the pandemic has dictated?
Training is the backbone of any company and with the dynamic environment in place, we should be more focused on training and retraining. With the pandemic, training has become even more important, so that we follow all government guidelines, yet keep the customers’ experience as a priority.
How long do you envisage it will be, if at all, that your particular sector is performing at pre-COVID-19 levels?
In the healthcare industry, elective procedures have dropped down. However, emergencies have to be same. We presume, once the people start making the general rules to follow, taking the pandemic as a part of life, business will start coming back to normal. In fact, these days, hospitals are safest places to visit because there is proper screening, regular disinfection of places and proper use of personal protective equipment. I believe, it shall come back to normal sooner than other industries.
Are there examples of new thinking in other sectors that your’s could adopt to good effect?
Technology is the one which can bridge the gaps in this pandemic. In our hospitals, we have started tele-consultations, so that visits to hospitals can be minimised. There is a lot of work going on about artificial intelligence which will soon make a bigger impact in healthcare, and the way we treat patients is going to change once the technology becomes affordable, so that healthcare costs don’t rise.
What is the No 1 positive aspect you would take from the last three months?
An organisation has to be more dynamic and employees should adapt to change faster, that’s what I believe is the game changer of any organisation in this pandemic.
Companies who have adapted their workflows and people, and started changing the ways they do business, will obviously be winners in comparison to companies who are waiting for the pandemic to be over. We are proud and happy that NMC culture made our employees more flexible to change, and we shall come out stronger than ever post pandemic. This pandemic, not only has taught us to be efficient always but has also made us realise the importance of risk management which should be the part of each organisation’s manual.
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