Making an Impact: Wharton EMBA Alumnus Talks about Using Degree to Improve Healthcare in India

Chris Dickey had a Doctorate in Public Health, but his job as general manager of a health services company in Manhattan wasn’t fulfilling his goal of making a real impact on a large number of people’s lives. To change that, he enrolled in Wharton’s MBA for Executives Program in 2006 where he seized the opportunity to brainstorm with classmates whenever he could about possible business plans. Soon after he graduated, he and a partner had a plan in place to create Healthpoint Services, a market-based approach to meeting the health needs of consumers at the base of the economic pyramid. In addition to providing clean water, the business also provides medical clinics in remote villages that connect patients to doctors via videoconferencing technology and remote diagnostics.

It’s been about 18 months since he graduated so we asked Chris to share some of the highlights of his unique entrepreneurial experiences with us. In addition to sending us a video video from a recent trip to India, here’s what he had to say:

“Poor people in the developing world typically don’t have access to clean water and affordable, high-quality health care. We set out to change that through a village-based unit called a Healthpoint that combines a Reverse Osmosis plant attached to a raw water source with the latest in telemedicine technology, approved drugs, and 65 diagnostic tests (and counting) that cover a range of common illnesses.

My partner, Allen Hammond, and I are convinced that we are among the pioneers of this new market-based approach to meeting the health needs of this vast group of consumers making and spending less than about $3 per day. We believe that a commercial venture focused on delivering high-quality care at an affordable price will create efficiencies, economies of scale, and a profitable, scalable company that will transform health outcomes for millions of people.

We officially launched the first three Healthpoints in India last October to some fanfare – both the Punjab Governor and Finance Minister were there as well as the national media. The politicians were so impressed with the operation that they asked us to build 600 more units in the next three years!

I recently returned from a visit to the Healthpoints, which are in Mallan, Doda, and Kotbhai, and also to our new call center based in Bathinda. I’m delighted to say that the units are all thriving, even after such a short time. The waiting rooms are full, people are lining up with 20 liter jugs to purchase clean water, and the staff is thrilled to be part of a revolutionary effort to provide access to health care for rural villagers.

During that trip, I watched a follow-up visit to the Healthpoint in Mallan by a woman who had been treated by us for joint pain a week before. She came to review her progress on the prescribed medicines and to get further instructions. She appeared to be very content with her treatment, which cost her 30 rupees (about $0.65) plus the cost of the medicines. Her doctor, too, was happy with the outcome. The fact that the doctor and patient were looking at one another through video screens seemed not to register to either of them.

The next morning, we drove to Doda, a village of about 1,500 families, nearly all of whom make a living from the vast farmland that surrounds it. When we arrived at the Healthpoint, several men were packing their 20 liter jugs full of water (which cost them 2 rupees) on the backs of their bicycles. One of the amazing aspects of this company is that getting the water has become a man’s job in these towns, replacing a traditional woman’s chore. We think it’s because the Healthpoints are also high tech gathering places and getting the water is now a cool thing to do for the men!

Inside the Healthpoint, I joined a consultation in progress. A farm worker was suffering from pains in his shoulder and side. He had been to the local government clinic where he was given vitamins and a pain killer without any real discussion. Our clinical assistant took the man’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and weight, carefully entering it into his electronic medical record. During the examination, our doctor was present via a large screen monitor and was asking lots of questions. It turns out that the patient had experienced several episodes during his life that appeared to be epileptic seizures. The doctor ruled out an immediate threat to the man’s health and then asked whether the patient could afford 500 rupees to get an EEG in Bathinda to check for epilepsy. The patient said yes, he had saved enough over the past year to cover the expense.

Absent a referral by our doctor, who is known in Bathinda, that EEG might have cost the worker several thousand rupees, a sum that he would have to borrow from a local loan shark, thereby ensuring that neither he nor his young family would ever escape the economic and health consequences of his illness.

I saw several other patient visits that day, not only in Doda, but also in Mallan and Kotbhai, and I was impressed by the warmth and care provided by our staff and also by patients’ ease in being seen by a doctor on TV. It’s incredible that most of these individuals have never seen a real doctor before and now they interact with one as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. The video and sound quality is so high, the lighting is so good, and the care with which the employees treat these poor patients is so genuine that the exchange of information is excellent. I’d gladly trade some of my experiences with the medical system in New York for ones like this.

When I think back on all those hours spent at Wharton discussing business ideas that would  make a difference, we owe a significant debt of gratitude to my Wharton EMBA colleagues, including Sarabjit Singh, Vikas Khurana, Mike Parker, and Rittik Chakrabarti.  I really believe that there is a tremendous demand for services like ours, not just in Punjab but in many other Indian states and other developing countries.”

Thanks to Chris for sharing those highlights and good luck to Healthpoint Services in its future growth!

To learn more about Healthpoint Services, contact Chris Dickey at: