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At Large

Health as investment in the future

What a difference three years can make!

Three years ago, I met with Yla Alcantara, head of corporate communications for Ayala Corp., and over lunch she briefed me on the various new ventures the country’s oldest business house was entering.

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One of these was the health field, with an envisioned network of primary care clinics called Family Doc; and Generika Drugs, an established retail drug company with branches around the country where the conglomerate had invested as a partner.

Today, these health initiatives have grown into Ayala Healthcare Holdings Inc. (AC Health), celebrating its third anniversary with a remarkable record of growth and service, especially in reaching out to families and communities in need.

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Their foray into health (along with education), explained Paolo Borromeo, AC Health CEO and president, is part of the conglomerate’s drive to “invest in businesses that the country needs.” It is part of the corporation’s vision, he added, to prepare the country’s young population “to be educated and healthy” so they are better equipped to take the country’s reins in the future. Indeed, it is Ayala’s strategic investment in the future, ensuring a population that is better able to plan, build, participate and invest in the years and decades to come.

“Health and education are not natural fields for Ayala,” (or for any big established company), admitted Borromeo, but it is the company’s way “to try to move the country forward.”

Rizzy Alejandro, strategy and communications director for AC Health, said that, as part of what Borromeo called their “very deep market research,” they talked with not just health professionals and managers, but, more importantly, also with ordinary consumers and householders.

And the almost-unanimous opinion shared with them, she said, is the public’s need for basic healthcare, “someplace we can go to for a headache or flu,” with no need to visit the emergency room of a hospital which many clients are forced to do.

People also expressed the need for better and yet basic customer service—“to be greeted when you enter,” as well as “to have doctors spend time to talk to you and explain what needs to be done.” A common complaint, said Alejandro, “is to wait for 45 minutes to see a doctor, who spends just five minutes listening to you and prescribing medicine.”

Starting with just two branches, Family Doc has now expanded to 36 clinics in Laguna, Cavite, Parañaque, Taguig, Pasig, Pateros and Las Piñas, serving 135,000 patients to date. Soon, it will expand to northern locales, including Caloocan, Marikina and Quezon City, and further north to Valenzuela and Rizal. Paul Darroca, Family Doc general manager, said the number of clinics will grow to 38 by month’s end, 50 by October, and “almost 100 clinics” by 2020.

“We work on a 3-in-1 model,” said Darroca, which means a clinic having in-house during its business hours at least one doctor, diagnostics services including ultrasound and X-rays, and a pharmacy. Each clinic also sells basic goods, including snack foods that patients put on “fasting” mode need as soon as they are examined.

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Although independent of Family Doc, Generika Drug Store, said vice president for operations Jay Ferrer whose parents founded the chain, was set up precisely to answer the health needs of ordinary Filipinos. From a present roster of 300 stores, Ferrer said Generika is seeking to expand to 500 and up to 800 outlets, where medicines are made available at prices up to 85 percent cheaper.

One of the innovations Ferrer mentioned is Med Padala, an “electronic gift check” that OFWs can give to their families back home to ensure that the money is spent on medicines and not on other goods. Generika also offers for free a “Gamot Guide” that translates into lay terms the use, efficacy and proper dosage of medicines.

These are just some of the old and newfangled ways that AC Health seeks to deliver health services to Filipinos. More in the next column.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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