BEATING THE BEST

Malaysia 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dato' Dr. Mohd Azhari Yakub, CEO of National Heart Institute (IJN), on recent achievements, cardiovascular research, and attracting patients from abroad.

What would you consider your main achievements at the National Heart Institute?

We are considered one of the leading cardiac centers in Asia Pacific. In terms of volume, we only come behind some centers in China and India. We take pride in our high standards—we have an international JCI accreditation. A group of Australian heart surgeons called us the Cleveland Clinic of Asia. Many of our consultants are key opinion leaders in Asia Pacific and are often invited to give scientific talks. We combine our clinical care with a strong research agenda and publish our studies in international publications. We participate in medical trials too. Initially, the hospital was providing cardiac treatment for Malaysians, but as our quality reached much higher international standards we developed a large foreign patient base. At the same time, we have grown to become a reference point for training and research. We provide training to many young doctors around the region, including the Middle East, Japan, and other countries in Southeast Asia. We have trained nearly 120 doctors who have spent at least one year with us. The fact that these young doctors later choose to work with us is another measure of our quality.

How do you structure cardiovascular research in the hospital?

Our research department has statisticians and clinical researchers working together, supporting our broader clinical research agenda. Our strength here is the volumes we have; the insights we gain are based on a large patient base. Our research is focused on clinical research and on improving our healthcare services in practice. The more elementary research takes place in another center, where we partner with University Technology Malaysia's (UTM) cardiovascular bioengineering department. There is a great deal of joint research between engineers, PhD students, and our doctors here, and this collaboration allows us to structure our research assets well. Funding is split between the government, the university, and us. We have a funding vehicle, the IJN Foundation, through which we receive corporate donations and to which we also contribute 1% of our annual revenue. Half of the funding is intended to subsidize patients who cannot afford healthcare while the other half is for research projects and education. This fund allows us to acquire new technology and offer treatments that would otherwise be too expensive. For example, via the IJN Foundation we invested in a heart assistance device that cost MYR500,000 and allowed us to be at the forefront of cardiovascular technology and skills. The large funding we have available for training is also our unique asset, to keep our staff at the highest demands and to retain our top doctors and give them a satisfying career. We are a government-owned hospital, but we run it as a private enterprise. We are completely responsible for our balance sheet. We envision being a center of excellence accessible to all Malaysians in terms of finance. We must be financially sustainable and profit is not our prime motive, as in the private healthcare sector. Our profits are reinvested into technology and human resources.

How do you present yourself abroad to attract an international client base?

The crux of it all is our quality, ensuring that we achieve clinical excellence. Without this we cannot move forward. This is our key philosophy. Meanwhile, we make considerable efforts to position ourselves as the heart center of choice in the region. We have a marketing department to collaborate with other partners and a representative office in Jakarta as Indonesia represents our largest foreign client base. We also target other regional markets like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Myanmar. The Middle East is the next region that we will target. Another element that supports our value proposition is that we have trained many doctors from overseas, who after returning to their home countries become ambassadors for us. We grow by reputation and medical care is all about trust. Having references from friends and relatives is the most reliable and guaranteed method of marketing abroad. In Malaysia, we are leading the game if we compare ourselves to other regional players like Thailand and Singapore. The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) is doing a great job in streamlining promotional efforts abroad. However, the responsibility also lies with individual hospitals, and, therefore, we have our own international agenda as well. The Middle East knows about our existence and our world-class healthcare, but there is much more work to do in terms of promotion. We have all the ingredients, but we could organize ourselves better to get the message out into the right forum. A successful system of medical tourism requires the efforts from all players in the ecosystem, and we work to do our part and develop our own branding strategy. Essentially, our value proposition is two-fold: quality and care, and competitive pricing.

How do you plan to cater to growing patient demand?

We have plans to develop two sub-clinics, one for private patients and one for public use. Our company will be split into two separate entities, a holding company that will remain responsible for the current facilities and IJN Private to run the new private hospital. We will still use all our assets, human resources, back office, research, and facilities for both our new entities. We saw a need to develop this private arm and have acquired neighboring land to materialize our extension project.

Can you tell us how you can enhance the health of the nation with wellness programs as part of your preventative care initiatives?

In recent years, we have been promoting ourselves not just as the place to go when one has health problems, but rather as proponents of heart healthcare. We indeed look more and more into preventative care activities and run several awareness campaigns that are also as part of our CSR agenda. We have a trailer equipped with echo clinical equipment, and every month we go to rural areas outside of Kuala Lumpur to provide medical check-ups. We have launched several media campaigns to promote a healthy lifestyle, for example to make people aware of the benefits of cycling. In partnership with Maybank Islamic, we organize cycling events and also provide the medical care for other cycling events. We are softening our image and reaching out to a larger circle of people. Our wellness center has also been well received. We provide medical screenings to those who are keen on staying informed about their condition. This is a great vehicle for us, not just in terms of business but in healthcare terms—we can detect diseases at an early stage, resulting in much higher levels of success. The wellness center is not where our margins lie; however, it introduces our high quality standards to our patients and demonstrates how our full-range of care is higher than private hospitals.