Spotlight Interview: Alisha Moopen, Deputy Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare

About Alisha Moopen

Alisha Moopen is the deputy managing director of Aster DM Healthcare. Having joined the company as a director in 2013, she is responsible for overseeing the strategic direction and development of the company, and notably spearheading the expansion of the group into new markets.

As a trustee of Aster DM Foundation, Alisha’s philanthropy and involvement in social welfare through Aster Volunteers program bridges the gap between people who would like to help with those in need.

As a Young Global Leader elected by World Economic Forum in 2018, Alisha has a presence on the world leadership stage. Her other international accolades include 2018’s Top 100 World’s Greatest Leaders in Asia and GCC, one of Forbes Middle East magazine’s Top Next Generation Indian Leaders in 2018 and in 2021, inclusion in the list of Women of Influence in the Arab World by CEO Middle East magazine. Alisha joined the board of directors for the Thought Leadership & Innovation Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in the United States working at the nexus of science, technology and public health in 2021.

She is a Chartered Accountant from the ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland) and worked with Ernst & Young.

Alisha graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with distinction in Finance & Accounting and holds a degree in Global Leadership & Public Policy Change from Harvard University.

About Aster DM Healthcare

Aster DM Healthcare Limited is one of the largest integrated healthcare service providers operating in multiple GCC states and is an emerging healthcare player in India. Through its network of 27 hospitals,115 clinics and 224 pharmacies, the organization provides complete care to all segments of the population. With an inherent emphasis on clinical excellence, it’s one of the few entities in the world with a strong presence across primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary healthcare through its hospitals and clinics. Aster has over 21,000 dedicated employees across the geographies where they are located, delivering a simple yet strong promise to its different stakeholders: “We’ll Treat You Well.”

Medical Travel & Digital Health News (MTDHN): Can you provide our readers with some background information about Aster DM and its worldwide reach?

Alisha Moopen (AM):  Our mission at Aster is to save, preserve and improve human lives as much as possible.

The organization was started in 1987 by my father, Dr. Azad Moopen, with a goal to provide end-to-end care. He began as a single-doctor clinic and served about 100 patients a day, but soon realized that there was only so much he could do on his own. 

He then recruited like-minded clinicians and healthcare professionals who believed in the basic tenet that in the healthcare industry, profit should be only a byproduct and the main goal is to save people’s lives.

Fast forward to 2021, and we have over 365 facilities in our fully integrated healthcare ecosystem. This includes pharmacies, both within our facilities and standalone locations. Aster DM hospitals range from small hospitals with 20 beds, all the way to 600-bed quaternary hospitals that utilize robotics and perform transplants.

We provide robust primary care with the combination of our clinics and pharmacies and currently serve about 20 million patients in seven countries. We perform secondary, tertiary and quaternary care, which is administered between 27 hospitals spanning close to 4,000 beds.   

The word “Aster” means star so we call all our employees Asterians and we say that we’re a galaxy of stars that are trying to make this world a better place. We have 21,000 Asterians working with us, out of which 2,900 are doctors focused on delivering the best quality healthcare.

MTDHN: Does Aster conduct any community outreach programs?

AM:  Aster is focused on corporate social responsibility and we believe that the blessings of the people we serve are with us. It is our duty to extend care even to those who cannot access or afford healthcare services. 

Our Aster Volunteers — 27,000 members strong — engage with local communities to support those in need, particularly in the domain of healthcare and wellbeing. They are currently providing and supporting COVID-19 relief efforts in India and GCC. They also host blood donation drives, wellness camps and provide free treatment to the underprivileged segments of the population.

Volunteers are recognized for providing much-needed relief, including food and medical supplies, after natural disasters like floods in India, famine in Somalia or for war-torn victims like Syrian refugees based in Jordan’s Zaatari camps. They also provide medical aid that includes sending our doctors and nursing staff to administer care to remote areas in countries like Sudan.

MTDHN: What are your expansion plans in the Western Hemisphere? Can you discuss the plans for a hospital in the Cayman Islands?

AM: Yes, it is a very significant milestone and one that we are extremely excited about. We have recently signed a long-term agreement with the Cayman Island government to build Aster Cayman Medcity, a 150-bed hospital as a part of phase one of the project.

Aster Cayman Medcity reflects the mission of all our hospitals: to dedicate our organization to the delivery of quality healthcare that is accessible and affordable to everyone. It is important that Aster expands these beliefs and continues a tradition of excellence that has been established over the last three decades.

In the next decade, we will also focus on two key themes:

  • Digitization of healthcare to make it even more affordable and more accessible.
  • Geographical expansion to bring the Aster values, services and capabilities closer to the Western Hemisphere.

We see the Cayman Islands, which are beautiful islands just 90 minutes from Miami, as a health destination for the Caribbean and U.S. Its incredible surroundings will provide an ideal setting for a healthcare procedure and our hospital will offer the same or better quality care than what patients can find at home. It is remarkable that we will be able to perform surgeries and procedures at a much more affordable price.  

The Cayman Islands have been very eager — both as an island and as a country — to diversify their economy. While tourism and financial services have been priority sectors, they are looking to boost the islands as “The Destination for Destination Healthcare.” Aster is very excited to partner with the government and develop a hospital which is recognized as the Center of Excellence for the Western Hemisphere.

Phase two of the plan involves adding an assisted living facility for people wanting to move or retire to the Cayman Islands. As part of phase three, Aster plans to set up a medical college in the Cayman Islands that would allow students to have hands-on experience.

MTDHN: Tell us why employers should be sending their workforces to Aster Cayman Medcity for care.

AM: There are many reasons why Aster is positioned to support the healthcare needs of workforces.

We have experience: Aster treats around 20 million patients annually and we’ve been providing excellent health care services for over 30 years.

We have a highly qualified healthcare team:  the Aster team of physicians, nurses and support staff is not only competent, but is also extremely compassionate, care oriented and can provide excellent, affordable care.

In the U.S., for example, the high cost of healthcare is a growing burden for employers. Many employers are limiting benefits to balance their budgets. Aster can relieve these challenges and provide quality care that is more desirable, convenient and affordable.

As an organization, our aim is to serve and endear ourselves to patients. When patients travel from one continent or one country to the other to seek this care, they are in a vulnerable and fragile state.

We want to make sure that we make every healthcare journey as easy, smooth and carefree as possible. If that means coming closer to where they stay physically, we’ll make it easier for them to access care.   

Additionally, we work with payers and employers to give them the best price points for accessing quality care. We’re eager to meet payer expectations for affordability – a critical gap in the current marketplace.

MTDHN: What services are most attractive to the U.S., Canadian and Caribbean markets?

AM: Some of the key services Aster Cayman Medcity will offer include:

  • Orthopedic: joint replacements, sports medicine and rehabilitation
  • Surgical and Post-surgical care
  • Oncology
  • Neurosciences and neurosurgery
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Many of these services are not easily accessible in the Caribbean, especially the NICU. In many cases, newborns that require a specialized NICU must be airlifted and moved to the U.S. for care.

As a result, it is costing a million dollars to have a baby!

We will have a fully functional tertiary care unit and ICU level-three services in place and positioned to serve the Caribbean and the Cayman Islands. This is good news for families who want to have their babies closer to home and cared for by experts in newborn care. 

MTDHN:  Our readers may be reading about the “miracles” that Aster is performing in India and elsewhere. How will that work with Aster Cayman Medcity?

AM: We do a lot of work in areas where we don’t even maintain operations or deliver services.

In fact, almost 10 years ago, Aster sent volunteers to the Philippines and sponsored 100 pediatric surgeries for babies with congenital heart diseases.

Giving back is in our blood— we do as much as we can as an organization to provide our resources to underserved populations.  

We work very closely with partners who share our common goal of helping communities and making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, whether it’s implants or other devices. Aster has a very robust program in terms of applying for any sort of aid.

We’ve just commissioned another campaign to perform liver transplants free of charge to those who qualify but do not have the financial ability to afford the procedure.   

We attempt to create a crowdfunding platform for those materials which require payment, but most of our doctors and staff are eager to volunteer their time to perform surgeries for the underprivileged.

This is our tradition which has been reinforced over the past 30 years. We are committed to continued service and anticipate providing some level of support around the Caribbean as well.

MTDHN: What are the most frequent procedures?

AM: We are an end-to-end integrated healthcare ecosystem, so we do everything. We are most well-known for:

  • obstetrics and gynecology
  • neonatology
  • orthopedics
  • neurosurgery
  • cardiac
  • In vitro fertilization
  • organ transplants

Aster has such a wide range of capabilities which we are excited to bring to the Cayman Islands with Aster Cayman Medcity. We are confident that medical value travel will be very sought-after from people residing in neighboring states and countries.

MTDHN: Medical travel and its value are not new to Aster. Can you give the readers background about your medical travel experience and how you’re going to leverage that experience when you come into the Western Hemisphere?

AM: We see around 15 to 20% of medical travel into our flagship units. We have three flagship units in India, and we do see a lot of tourists that come from all over the world.

A lot of them come from the GCC because in the GCC you have a very young population. Many of them don’t require very advanced care.

Aster attracts a significant number of patients from the Middle East where we are an established and trusted brand. They’re happy to travel to Aster facilities in India and access end-to-end care upon their return home to their local Aster hospital.

With the onset of COVID-19, things are quite different since many of those travel plans have come to a standstill. You don’t even see the movement between state to state in India because of the lockdowns that have been on and off for the last year.

Even in Dubai where Aster has a big presence, we have probably 50-60% of our business coming from UAE/Dubai, which is now a regional destination for medical travel because of the connectivity of Emirates Airlines from all around the world, as well as the thriving hospitality sector.

As a tourist destination, Dubai facilities and providers have also started focusing on a more extensive range of cosmetic procedures, including dental, cosmetics, plastic surgery, orthopedics and inferior deepithelialized flap breast reconstruction.

Patients also travel to Dubai for gender selection, which is permitted here, freezing eggs (oocyte cryopreservation) and other procedures. Many people from some of the other Muslim countries come to Aster in Dubai for these services. We are not new to medical travel—we receive medical travelers in Dubai and in large numbers at our India facilities.

We believe it goes back to the three main things: SSS — service, savings and safety. Aster has the best medical team to make sure patients are getting the best service, receiving safe care and saving money because the care is affordable.

MTDHN: Does Aster offer bundled pricing?

AM: Yes — we think bundle pricing is one of the best ways to manage costs in healthcare. Patients and payers know the exact cost of care for a designated surgery or procedure.   

Doctors are also advised to stay within the scope of care that has been recommended and proposed to the patient.

With this approach to price transparency, there are no surprises for the patient.

The last thing you want is for someone to travel thousands of miles and discover that theirs was a basic package and several things were added.

We are very focused on offering bundled packages so that everyone knows the likely costs up-front. 

MTDHN: Do your bundled options include the travel expense or is that something that’s arranged separately?

AM: It depends upon the patient.

We do have a lot of relationships with concierge providers so that we can add the travel, hotel, sightseeing and other activities to the bill. If you ask for a bundled package like that, it can be arranged.

On the other hand when the patient says, “No, I will arrange all of that. I just want to know how much it would be for the procedure,” we’ll provide the cost of the procedure only with an itemized list of services.

MTDHN: For follow up care, do the patients see their doctors at home?

AM: Yes. Of course, patients can always connect back with the Aster doctors because Aster provides that continuity of care.

Knowing doctors are available for any questions gives patients peace of mind and that’s something which has become very easy for us in this COVID-19 era because everyone has adapted to seeking care online or via telehealth.

Our capabilities for virtual care are extensive and we have a lot of experience providing this level of care. 

I think medical travel is going to undergo a massive change as result of this digital capability. Historically, medical travelers did not have the opportunity to meet the doctor prior to traveling for care. 

That has changed and now everyone can have virtual consults with the doctor who is going to perform the procedure.

Similarly, when the patient is back home, they can still reconnect and make sure recovery and recuperation is in line with what is expected.

In some ways, COVID-19 has brought about this needed change and as an organization, we now place more emphasis on digital solutions such as telehealth.   

As consumer behaviors change and shift rapidly, we will continue to offer these options that support ease of access to care and make people feel comfortable traveling for healthcare.

MTDHN:  From your perspective, where’s the medical travel industry going? Do you think it’s on the grow, do you think COVID-19 has just put a temporary pause to it?

AM: I think it’s just put a temporary pause on activity.

As the travel corridors open, my assumption is that with tools like telehealth and telemedicine, people are much more open to the idea of traveling.

Right now, we’re all fighting the deadly situation where we are so nervous about borders closing at a moment’s notice and not knowing what to plan for. It may take a few months for the pace to accelerate to former levels, but we’re already seeing some traction. Some countries which have been more aggressive about opening will be able to accept some of these international tourists.   

There’s going to be a shift in the destination preference for medical travel and some countries will move ahead of the curve in this medical travel industry.

MTDHN: Can you tell the readers about the Cayman Islands and how well they are doing with controlling COVID-19 and vaccinating their population?

AM:  Leaders in the Cayman Islands have done a phenomenal job managing COVID-19 cases. I think they’ve been quite prudent and made sure that the population is fully vaccinated.

It’s an island which is exposed to a lot of cruise liners, but thankfully, they took the steps needed to protect themselves. Now, as we understand, they’re opening very shortly and ready to welcome tourists again.

MTDHN: Will Aster Cayman Medcity recruit doctors that are currently practicing in the U.S.?

AM: Yes, that’s something we are quite eager to explore. I think there are so many areas for collaboration and learning from U.S. doctors.

We welcome doctors who share the Aster mission and who are willing to come to the Cayman Islands, practice with us and provide high quality, affordable care.

Wherever they come from, the doctors — as well as all other healthcare providers – will be trained and board certified. All our hospitals are either JCI accredited, have Canadian accreditation, or they have the national board certification as in India.

We make sure that our facilities and professional teams not only meet basic regulatory requirements, but that they also receive the best possible accreditation available.  

MTDHN: Can you provide an estimated timeline of building in the Caymans?

AM: Groundbreaking is scheduled for the summer of 2021 and we expect to be open by mid-2023.

Of course, when you’re looking at the Cayman Islands project, it will take us some time to go through the accreditation process, but we are confident that our new hospital will achieve accreditation in the earliest timeframe possible. 

MTDHN: Are there opportunities for anybody who wants to fly down to the Caymans and see the groundbreaking or any of the other opportunities there?

AM: Absolutely.

There’s so much ambiguity around the travel these days, but we hope to welcome key referrers, partners and employers to the site and join us in celebrating our milestones.

MTDHN: Can you talk about some of your partnerships like Self-Insurance Institute of America (SIIA) and the Thought Leadership & Innovation Foundation?

AM: Healthcare is a key topic that has been emphasized during the pandemic and forced all stakeholders to deal with some very real challenges. On a lot of levels, people have taken healthcare for granted and ignored opportunities to fix the system until it was broken. 

Now is the time to address these issues and it is important for Aster to align with all stakeholders.

SIIA is a great entity where we gain insights about how the employers think about care and their perspective on making sure that their workforce is taken care of in safe and trusted places.

This is something for which we are completely aligned and we are very excited to be members of this organization. We look forward to working more closely with other SIIA members.

I’m also pleased to say that I will be joining the Board of Directors at the Thought Leadership & Innovation Foundation. I am looking forward to working with them on their projects including regenerative medicine and chronic disease, limb loss, rehabilitative medicine and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on behavioral health.

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