Pranesh Srinivasan

Data. Hacks. Opinions.


I recently read, “The Professional” by Subroto Bagchi (amazon), when I came across a wonderful chapter on the value of the human touch. In it, Bagchi says that most modern professionals have forgotten the value of the human touch. He makes an extremely good case citing how most people are driven by the need to belong and appreciated more than anything else.

The highlight of the chapter for me was a section on Dr. Devi Shetty. Dr. Devi Shetty runs Narayana Hrudalaya (now called Narayana Health), a heart hospital in India. Headquartered in Bengaluru, the chain operates a chain of hospitals, heart centers, primary care facilities across India. It also has one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world.

With that context, please read, re-read and enjoy the section below from Bagchi’s book on Dr. Shetty.

A paragraph on the human touch

A professional I have deep admiration for is the internationally renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty. When you visit his famous hospital, Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore, you first encounter is a small shrine in front of the portico. It is a small, four-cornered structure. One side is a temple, the other a church, the third side is a mosque and the fourth a gurdwara (a place of worship for Sikhs). The doctors at Narayana Hrudayalaya will tell you this shrine is where all healing begins – from faith and then on through the hands of the doctor. Beyond the portico, as you step inside the building, is a well-organized reception area, which has a sign in Bengali that says “BENGALI SPOKEN HERE.” In Bangalore, almost everyone speaks either English or Hindi or both. Why does the hospital require a separate area within reception for patients who are more comfortable speaking Bengali? Because demographic analysis of patients has shown that most heart patients who come to the hospital are from West Bengal in India and neighboring Bangladesh and are often escorted by a fellow villager, spouse or family member for whom an alien city, a hospital and the burden of an unknown language can be daunting. Dr. Sherry has created his institution based on existential knowledge, on Understanding how a patient who visits his hospital feels.

At the end of a long day, Dr. Shetty sits in his ofice and sees outpatients. He always tries to say a few words to each patient in their mother tongue. Sometimes his accent is clumsy, but his gesture instantly endears him to them and makes them feel at ease. He uses his stethoscope to examine them, something that is probably meaningless in a clinical sense because he has their entire case history, including CT scans, in front of him. But he does it because most patients from rural areas feel a doctor has not paid attention to them or examined them thoroughly unless he has listened to their heartbeat with a stethoscope. And, invariably, he will touch them at least once during the conversation. When I asked him why he did that, he told me that these days doctors do not understand the power of the human touch. There can be no healing Without touch. After he has examined the patient, a completely unhurried Dr. Shetty ends the consultation by asking, “Do you want to ask me anything?” For a man strapped for time this can be risky, because patients may engage him in a long conversation. But for Dr. Shetty this is the most important thing to do.

Dr. Shetty relates to the world of medicine at the existential level. And this is what will be required of every world-class professional of tomorrow-be it a dress designer, product manager at Procter & Gamble, a physician, a family attorney or an air traffic controller.