Devi Shetty keeps photographs of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi on his desk, and he’s obsessed with making cardiac surgery affordable for millions of Indians. But these two facts are not connected. Shetty’s a heart surgeon-turned-businessman who founded a chain of 21 medical centers around India. Every bit the capitalist, he has trimmed costs by buying cheaper scrubs and spurning air-conditioning and other efficiencies. That’s helped cut the price of artery-clearing coronary bypass surgery to 95,000 rupees ($1,555)—half of what it was 20 years ago. He wants to get it down to $800 within a decade. The same procedure costs $106,385 at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
“It shows that costs can be substantially contained,” says Srinath Reddy, president of the Geneva-based World Heart Federation. “It’s possible to deliver very high-quality cardiac care at a relatively low cost.”
Medical experts like Reddy are watching closely to see if Shetty’s severe cost-cutting can serve as a model for making life-saving heart operations more profitable and more accessible to patients in India and other emerging nations. “The current price of everything that you see in health care is predominantly opportunistic pricing and the outcome of inefficiency,” says Shetty, who opened his flagship hospital, Narayana Hrudayalaya Health City, in Bangalore in 2001.