Vikram Thaploo is leading Apollo TeleHealth’s noble goal of turning affordability into a non-negotiable privilege from the front – with a signature mix of technology, leadership, and humane-ness.
Meet the Leader
Vikram Thaploo is the CEO-Telehealth at Apollo Hospitals. A result-first digital transformer with a sparkling track record of countless milestones behind him, he has been holding leadership positions in corporate decision making for over a decade. In fact, Mr Thaploo carries nearly twenty years of mission critical experience in setting up, operating and scaling up startups, expanding business for small-medium-large organizations, strategic planning, execution and management of diverse functions and portfolios which include modelling, customer service, administration, feasibility analysis, marketing, branding and more.
At different levels and in varying capacities, Mr. Thaploo has been part of winning teams at Jaypee Hotels, Barista Coffee (Lavassa, Italy), Patissier’s (Precision Group), Big Apple (Future Group) and Steeplejack (retail startup), to name some.
He is currently leading Apollo Hospital’s global portfolio as CEO for the Group’s Remote HealthCare Vertical (TeleHealth & Government Businesses). His mandates include a larger than life duty that comes with the express goal of turning healthcare affordable using the convergence of Technology, Telecom, Medtech ecosystem and Healthcare.
Vikram Thaploo is the recipient of prestigious industry awards and accolades such as ‘CEO of the YEAR 2017’ (by Healthcare Achievers And Leadership Award Healthcare Awards) and ‘Leadership award in 2016’ (by ASSOCHAM) for significant contribution in the field of healthcare through innovation of new & effective business models, amongst many others
A proactive individual who believes that PLANNING must always be complemented by DOING, Mr. Thaploo’s logical approach to targets and challenges lets him take on pressures with calm and poise, organically amplifying outcomes.
Picking a dynamic and values-driven ‘goal-digger’ like Vikram Thaploo as a VOH IDEA LEADER wasn’t difficult, therefore. In the quest of learning more about the man and the influences that shape his multi-dimensional endeavours and winning journeys, we caught up with Mr. Thaploo, armed with a curious mind that was ready to be overwhelmed with a flush of leadership inspiration. Mr. Thaploo didn’t just match up, but exceeded our expectations – kicking off the edifying session by capturing his life’s driving purpose – the force that makes him get up each morning – vividly for our readers:
The fact that someone today will be impacted from the healthcare initiatives that I have been driving, gives me an immense sense of satisfaction and gratitude. Passion has been a powerful driver in my life and my biggest passion has always been about how through my work or otherwise, I can create a real difference in the lives of the needy, the marginalized and the underserved. And in telehealth in a way I have found my higher purpose. When someone’s health in the remote villages of Lahaul and Spiti,up in the Himalayas with no doctors in the vicinity, is stabilised through tele-emergency or when someone living in an urban slum is effectively diagnosed and nursed back to health through telehealth services, I feel that I have achieved my higher purpose”.
Married with two kids, Mr. Thaploo has been living in Hyderabad (India) since 2010 with parents, wife and kids. He completed his Healthcare Management Programme from Indian School of Business (ISB) and PGDBM from Symbiosis, Pune after his Hotel Management. He briefly worked for the hospitality industry before moving on to retail, crowing his eventful journey with his current stint in healthcare, where he has completed over a decade now.
The Moment of Change
An interesting incident altered Mr. Thaploo’s perspectives of life profoundly, giving him a first person peek into the ground reality and bringing the issue of affordability squarely in the centre of his vision. He reminisces, “I think the big turning point came during one of my trips to Kashmir that I had made after joining the digital wing of Apollo Hospitals. I made this trip with a friend of mine who was a doctor by profession and incidentally whom I generally addressed as ‘Doctor’. We were in Gulmarg enjoying ourselves with the place being completely covered in snow. And the so-called turning point came during this one particular incident when I happened to be calling out my friend as ‘doctor.’ Some local people immediately approached us at the mention of the word ‘doctor.’ To our utter astonishment, these local folks came to us unannounced telling us about their individual health issues expecting professional medical advice from us. Someone had a pain in his knee, someone had breathing problem, or mostly chronic ailments. The volley of their questions and requests left me thinking hard and deep. I realized the extent of shortage of doctors and expert physicians in that area and how much these simple people suffered as a consequence. Since I could interact with them in their local language, I could really feel their angst and despair at the abysmal state of affairs. That was what really got me going, or as you call it, the eureka moment for me. I instantly knew that I had to do something. And so I decided to put all my efforts in making telehealth as a tool to make a difference to the lives of those people who until then had suffered for no fault of theirs. Making affordable healthcare accessible became my life goal.”
Exposures that Shaped the Persona
An adversity and learnings filled early life shaped Mr. Thaploo’s character lastingly, outlining it with steely resolve and strengthening it with uncrushable resilience. “I have had my fair share of setbacks that life offers to nearly everyone in this world. From living a happy childhood in Kashmir to being ousted and surviving in a refugee camp, adversity has played a great role in transforming my outlook towards life and gifting me the ability to think big and outside the box. The hardships that I went through have made me realise the immense value of basic necessities such as food, home and health. Adversities remained the best teacher of my life. Those days education was a privilege few could access given our exodus from Kashmir. And all my decisions and the choices that I made flowed from financial considerations or constraints. Yet, I never lost hope. Hope was the only driving factor for my survival. And so my younger days were a story of riches to rags. But as it is said – necessity is the creator of all inventions – I kept on learning, enhancing my skills and finding out ways to solve my problems. This has helped me achieve what I’m today. From being a “refugee” to a “refuge provider”, despite the innumerable personal setbacks, I count my blessings every day. At the same time, I must also express a debt of gratitude to my parents and wife, without whose unstinted support and inspiration, I would never be what I am today. It goes without saying that they have been my pillars of strength, every step of the way.
His Big Mission
We want to dig deeper into the big need-gap his current mission aims to address and disrupt. Mr. Thaploo explains into the nitty gritties of the noble task he has been entrusted to steer forward: “When I joined Apollo Hospitals to set up Apollo TeleHealth as Chief Executive Officer in 2010, it was clear as day that some of the challenges that bedevil the healthcare system in India needed fresh approaches and alternate delivery channels that had never been conceived before. And innovations in Healthcare IT were to form the cornerstone of that approach.
One of the biggest drawbacks in our current healthcare systems has been the acute shortage of qualified doctors in the country. In order to bridge this gap and improve access to over-all healthcare, we worked towards a gradual transition of care delivery – from curative to preventive care and from hospitals and clinics to homes via virtual care. In these years, patients from across the country have availed of our telehealth services from the comfort of their homes, saving themselves unnecessary expenses and travel time.
In effect, we conceptualized and executed a first-of-its-kind healthcare service delivery with innovation at its core in India. For instance, through Apollo’s Himachal Pradesh Tele Health Services programme, we provide the much-needed emergency, specialty and super-specialty consultation services to 4 different locations at a height of 14,500 feet in the Himalayan mountain ranges. The objective of this Information and Communication Technology-powered Telemedicine programme was to provide the required healthcare support system in the remotest and the most inaccessible terrains. Through this Tele-Emergency programme, we have stabilized over 1260 patients and performed more than 20,000 consultations thereby providing the much required healthcare support system, saving lives, and improving the quality of life of people.
Envisaged initially as a proof of principle, technology-enabled service delivery model, this PPP is now a time-tested programme, which can be scaled up in different forms. Our innovative PPP model initiated with the Government of Andhra Pradesh helps to manage & operate 195 UPHCs (Electronic Urban Primary Healthcare Centres) across 9 districts in Andhra Pradesh. UPHCs serve the urban poor families which are below and near the poverty line, thereby catering to the healthcare needs of approximately 20% of the total population of Andhra Pradesh.
Such innovations demonstrate that Tele Health PPPs that apply technological advancements in healthcare can completely recreate the healthcare landscape, thereby bridging the gap in terms of access to quality healthcare services making it equitable for one and all. Today, our PPP projects have been providing telemedicine access to 350,000 CSCs across India under the Digital India Initiative. Presently, we have over 700 public healthcare centres in Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode across India, spread across Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, etc., touching more than 12 million lives.
With Covid-19 galvanising the all-round uptake of telemedicine in a huge way, Apollo is ‘carrying the torch’ even further. Adding force to the government’s Digital India movement, today Apollo runs the world’s largest Telehealth services offering over 20,000 tele-consults a day. We are also going to launch smart technology-based health kiosks across the length and breadth of the country. However, I must add that we are already thinking in terms of a post-COVID telemedicine landscape and working vigorously towards it.”
Cometh the Crisis, Cometh the Leader
The COVID era established the crying need for telemedicine and remote diagnosis, creating a burning demand for good old traits like vision, innovation and humanity. Today most of us are in sync with the idea of consulting a doctor virtually without having to visit the hospital/clinic. This is where Mr. Thaploo and his organization’s vision has been working its miracles of late, rising to the ask and ushering a new age of home-based clinical care to COVID19-positive patients. He expands at length, “Flowing from the very exigent nature of the pandemic that was upon us and the consequent lockdown-driven restrictions on social mobility and distancing in general, there is no doubt that telemedicine did receive the much-needed impetus in the last one year or so. Although for Apollo TeleHealth particularly, this was familiar turf given that we have been operational in the field of telehealth for over twenty years now. Yet, in light of the abrupt halting of routine, non-communicable and lifestyle diseases-related visits to hospitals and healthcare facilities impacting tens of millions in the country on account of Covid-19 outbreak, the enormity and the scale of the challenge was quite unprecedented. As such at Apollo TeleHealth too, we had to scale up our operations several-fold, expand our services to regions and areas formerly uncovered and make provisions for those diseases and disorders which we hadn’t covered before Covid struck. These were truly game-changing initiatives and admittedly, only a pandemic of this nature and magnitude can precipitate such transformational initiatives in such a short span of time. The abysmal urban-rural gap in terms of healthcare infrastructure and services in the country perpetually affecting millions possibly necessitated such a shake-up in the system. Regardless, I am sure that in the coming future, the country as a whole would be better prepared with the help from initiatives like National Digital Health Mission.”
Every Highway has its Roadblocks
Vikram Thaploo’s journey is no different. So what are the roadblocks he has had to crush along the way, and what have been the learnings and relationships gained thereof? The idea leader collects his thoughts before sharing, “Like everyone else and in most spheres of life, I did face roadblocks from individuals, institutions and even circumstances. Yet, there were several helping hands that did come along the way and enabled me to face and overcome the challenges. For one, Dr Prathap C Reddy, the founder & chairman of Apollo Hospitals Group and the visionary force behind the very idea of Apollo TeleHealth has been like a solid rock behind us for every initiative that we chose to take. However, it was Dr Sangita Reddy who has really mentored us, inspired us and taught us to dream big and shake off the challenges and hurdles almost effortlessly that came our way. So, I express my most sincere gratitude to everyone who has made our journey worthwhile and meaningful.”
Learnings and Takeaways
Looking back, what would he say his greatest learnings have been? What have been the pearls of wisdom picked up over the years and stashed away in his personal ‘wisdom vault’? The ever-driven individual reflectively responds, “Apollo being the pioneer in telemedicine and by now the largest in the world, of such nature, had long back foreseen the transformative role that telehealth was going to play in addressing the doctor-patient gap in the country. Appreciating it and implementing those learnings on the ground has been my guiding force. We launched our first telemedicine center at our Chairman Dr Pratap C Reddy’s hometown through V-SAT back in 2000, which was inaugurated by no less than Bill Clinton, the then President of USA, who was on his official visit to India. Since then, although we faced challenges from doctors, patients, and even government departments during the implementation but we kept our focus on the larger goal.
Advice for GEN Next
And what advice would he want to leave for the next generation / aspirants in his domain? A true leader builds more leaders, not more followers, and Mr. Thaploo shines as one by saying, “To the next generation, I would say that adaptability and resilience are the biggest attributes one must have. If you have faith in your purpose, don’t allow short-term hitches and hurdles to turn into long-term roadblocks. Work your way towards your goal always keeping the big picture in mind. Also, I would suggest that don’t try and do things single-handedly. Nurture and develop a team of like-minded and driven people. They would facilitate meeting your life’s goals.”
How would he like to be remembered? What would he want his legacy to be? Confronted with a question that can, admittedly, be a little uncomfortable, Mr. Thaploo frames his word characteristic judiciousness: “I have been associated with Telehealth for the past one decade and our initiative has touched more than 12 million lives by now. I share a common vision with our Chairman and our JMD, and that is to bridge the still-existing yawning gap between the number of doctors and the number of patients by way of deploying reliable and high-speed technology. In a country of 130 crore plus population with a woeful doctor patient ratio of about 1: 1450 against WHO-prescribed 1: 1000, I will not rest until every single individual, every single patient requiring a doctor’s expert consultation in the country is able to do so.
To the next generation, I would say that adaptability and resilience are the biggest attributes one must have. If you have faith in your purpose, don’t allow short-term hitches and hurdles to turn into long-term roadblocks. Work your way towards your goal always keeping the big picture in mind. Also, I would suggest that don’t try and do things single-handedly. Nurture and develop a team of like-minded and driven people. They would facilitate meeting your life’s goals.