Sunday, December 10, 2023

‘Medall removed some stigma around Covid testing’: Arjun Ananth, CEO of Medall

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NewsX was recently joined by Arjun Ananth, CEO of Medall, for an exclusive conversation as a part of its special series, NewsX A-List where he spoke about his company, its work, especially during the pandemic.

Talking about the journey, significant initiatives and achievements of Medall over the years, Arjun said, “Medall started 11 years ago and it was funded predominantly by a private equity fund called ‘People Capital’. When an entrepreneur called, Raj Venkataraman approached the fund with an idea to consolidate radiology diagnostic assets predominantly in the South. Medall did around 26 acquisitions, rolling up various radiology assets. Around 2015, the company entered the pathology business, which is a blood testing business. Soon after, they won a large contract with the Andhra Pradesh government, to manage the public-private partnership in that state, which gave a huge boost to the blood testing pathology business. That’s how the company evolved and grew overtime. It is still owned by People Capital. Somewhere towards the end of 2018 and early 2019, the erstwhile promoters and CEO decided to take a backseat. Since I was quite intimately familiar with the company, had been on the board for four years prior to that, I decided to step in as the full-time CEO of Medall. This happened sometime around November last year”.

Speaking about the presence of Medall in country, Mr. Ananth said, “Medall is definitely present in the 5 states in the South, Tamil Nadu, Kerela, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, with presence in Pondicherry. In the North, we have a large presence in Jharkhand and have just entered Uttar Pradesh”. Speaking on further expansion plans, he added, “Going forward, most of our expansion will be in the South. Personally, I see a lot of opportunity and our strategy is to go deeper compared to wider, so you’ll see aggressively expanding in the South”.

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Talking about the associations and collaborations of Medall with industry bodies, Arjun said, “Medall has collaborated with various institutes. Right now, we are collaborating with an Artificial Intelligence firms, where we are pushing for some AI initiatives in radiology. During the height of the pandemic, we were involved with the Siddha Institute and all four of their branches. Essentially, we were being used as a diagnostic company to test the efficacy of Siddha drugs for treating Covid. From what I’ve heard, they were fairly instrumental in Tamil Nadu in a big way, in preventing the widespread of Covid”.

Medall has ICMR approval for testing, speaking about the details of testing, Mr. Arjun said, “We got our ICMR approval in May to test for Covid, we have done over 350,000 tests till date. We were the largest testers of Covid in the South during the pandemic. We were the last to enter but we became the biggest in a short span of time. Having tested over 350,000 samples, a couple of weeks ago, we took a fairly sizeable step where we said, let’s make this whole business consumer-centric. Let’s encourage people to come and test because of the notion that people don’t want to get tested because they’re scared of the result. We said let’s remove cost as a major factor and we reduced our prices to less than 1000 rupees per test, whereas the competition is still at 2400-2500. We said let’s just go ahead and do something for the people”.

Medall has contributed quite a lot to the society and the country during Covid. Talking about the contributions made, Mr. Ananth said, “We were very closely involved with the government in helping them test, Tamil Nadu was amongst the top three states in total testing. Medall played an instrumental part in partnering with the government and testing those samples. One of the unique features of the core program in Tamil Nadu was also these fever clinics that they ran, they conducted fever clinics in small localities, where they identified people with a symptom and had them tested for Covid. So, Medall partnered with the government in helping them set up these fever clinics as well. So, Medall has been closely involved with the government and even people, as they learn more about Covid, they realise that it’s not only the RT-PCR test but also the CT scan which is important to understand the extent of which Covid had affected a person. Being an integrated diagnostic player, we had these packages where, a person could have RT-PCR done, also the chest CT scan and a group of blood tests. We made it easy for the hospitals as we don’t want to waste more time when people are rushed into the hospitals, and they had a package of information which was readily available at the time of admission. We innovated around some of the aspects. We played a role in removing some of the stigma around testing”.

Mr. Ananth the spoke about the Chennai Reference Lab. He explained, “Our Chennai Reference Lab is a state-of-the-art lab, it was set up around 4 years ago. It is virtually capable of doing every test that is required on the blood testing side for an individual. We have multiple departments in the lab, biochemistry, dermatology, microbiology and so on. We have experts who have joined us from various other organisations, who work with is very closely in the lab. It’s one of those things where, anybody who has stepped into lab has gone away mightily impressed and it’s something that we’re extremely proud of. Recently, we enhanced the test menu of the lab and today I can confidently say that whatever test a person needs in this part of the country is available”.

Talking about the range of tests offered by Medall, Mr. Arjun said, “We offer over a 1000-1500 tests in our test run, so it’s a very wide range. The few which may appeal to the viewers, we recently launched a package that’s aimed at pregnant women. So, we designed the package to help women know what tests to do, when to do and why they should do it. So, it’s literally like planning the 9 months and you don’t have to worry about tests because you can get a reminder of the test and we will come home and do the test for you. That’s something which fairly unique and we are proud of. Otherwise, there are a lots of tests and we do all the advanced tests that any hospital or any medical practitioner may require”.

Lastly, Mr. Ananth spoke about what makes Medall different from its competitors. He said, “What makes Medall different is the fact that it is an integrated diagnostics company. I’ll give a few examples. Most of our competitors of the diagnostic companies offer only an X-ray, CT-scan, MRI or they offer all the blood tests. Medall offers both and I think and as consumers think about preventive health checks and wellness, integrated diagnostics has a huge role to play. An example: if you have to do a master health check, it’s not sufficient if you just do a panel of blood tests, it’s important to do an ultrasound to know whether structurally there’s something wrong inside any organs. For a woman, it’s very important to do mammograms, once they’ve gone past a certain age. Those are very specific radiology modalities. In addition to all the blood tests, it’s important to do ultrasounds, mammograms, echocardiograms, TMP’s and so on. So Medall has all these facilities under one roof. It’s a one-stop shop for all the preventive health needs”.

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