Vaatsalya & Sevamob: The “Food Truck” Approach to Scaling Up Health

September 2015

The 7,000 miles between Clover, a bustling, chain of healthy fast food restaurants in Boston, and Vaatsalya Heathcare Solutions, a chain of hospitals serving patients in semi-rural cities in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, might seem too great a distance for innovation to percolate.

But when Dr. Ashwin Naik, who co-founded Vaatsalya in 2005, heard best-selling author and CASE senior fellow Dan Heath present information on how Clover used food trucks to gather data on where to strategically build restaurants, the proverbial light bulb turned on in Ashwin’s head.

Ashwin heard Heath speak during the annual summit for the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD), funded by USAID. The SEAD Summit is an intensive, three-day workshop event held on Duke’s campus each spring that brings together global health innovators from the SEAD program. He had been grappling with the question of how to increase healthcare coverage across the region Vaatsalya was serving. 70% of India’s population lives in peri-urban and rural areas but 80% of health care facilities are mostly located in urban areas. Faced with long distances to travel and high costs for services many go without quality health care.

Vaatsalya has created an efficient and accessible network model that specializes in a specific set of health services that are in high demand in each local community it serves. By ensuring that the clinical workforce has the right skills and centralizing administration and management costs across the network, Vaatsalya is able to drive costs down and make care more affordable and accessible to all.

But Vaatsalya’s expansion faces two main issues: 1) hospitals are expensive to set up and require optimum patient volumes to cover costs and 2) to effectively reach additional patient populations, substantial referral networks must be built with community health networks and local providers.

Ashwin thought: Just as food trucks can test out customer demand for bricks and mortar restaurants, what if mobile clinics could provide primary care and test demand for bricks and mortar hospitals?

Enter Shelley Saxena, the Founder and CEO of Sevamob, another SEAD innovator that operates mobile clinics across India, providing comprehensive primary care to targeted rural populations.  Started in 2012, Sevamob has rapidly expanded its services by partnering with pharmaceutical and medical device companies, health foundations and local hospitals interested in this low-cost, full-service approach to healthcare in rural locations.

After the SEAD Summit, Ashwin and Shelley devised a plan not unlike the food truck to restaurant idea. Vaatsalya would pay Sevamob to operate mobile clinics providing primary care to rural areas of India and collect important health data through electronic medical records. Patients cared for in Sevamob’s mobile clinics needing specialty care would then be referred to a Vaatsalya network hospital.

Since entering into a formal partnership in May 2015, they are now operating three Vaatsalya-branded mobile units over multiple districts in India and performing over 1,600 patient consultations per mobile unit per month. Together, each innovator is expanding access to affordable healthcare to more people.

Good things happen at our events.  We’re currently finalizing dates for the next SEAD Summit and the Innovations in Healthcare Annual Forum to be held in April. These events attract the most innovative healthcare entrepreneurs around the globe, bringing them together for multiple days of rich discussion addressing challenges and identifying solutions like the Sevamob/Vaatsalya partnership. We hope you will consider attending – you never know where the conversations might lead you!