From a Banker to a Marketer, Nilantha Rathnayake has served Commercial Bank PLC for 17 years before he began his career in Marketing. He has served many leading organisations in the country, and presently is the Director Marketing of Foresight Engineering (Pvt) Ltd and Ninewells Hospital.

Speaking about the country’s healthcare system, Nilantha stated that Sri Lanka maintains a relatively high standard of providing healthcare services in comparison with countries of similar levels of economic development.

“Sri Lanka continues to report excellent health indicators and continues to be one of the best in the South Asian region in terms of the quality of healthcare services. Some of the Sri Lankan healthcare indicators are on par with the world’s most developed countries. The Sri Lankan healthcare system has eliminated several intractable communicable diseases, including poliomyelitis, malaria, and, most recently, measles. Yet, there are problems such as underinvestment, shortages in human resources, medical supplies and service and inequitable service distribution.

“Although the coverage of healthcare services have expanded over the years, yet there are treatments and procedures which cannot be performed in Sri Lankan hospitals and which require treatments foreign countries. The system is also affected by the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and increasing elderly care needs.”

He went on to speak about the industry’s talent pool in Sri Lanka, “Sri Lankan talent pool is undoubtedly of high standard due to the strict regulation by the government and requirement of very high marks in order to get into a medical school. Although the quality is of high standard, the quantity of healthcare workers has not been adequate and the population to physician ratio has to improve.”

When questioned how the Healthcare industry has shifted to a customer centric approach, Nilantha asked, “How can you put a price on your health? or, even more importantly, your life?”

In response to it, he stated, “The Healthcare industry has always been a paradox when it comes to customer service. The Sri Lankan private Healthcare industry has always been for the customer, or more stiltedly the patient, that wishes for a service that prioritise them, to make their visit to the hospital more efficient and fast, to feel that their health concerns are as much a priority to the hospital staff as it is to the patients themselves. And they are willing to forego the tedious task of going through the tedious national healthcare system, which is free, to have the above mentioned benefits.

“As private healthcare is rapidly growing, the competition to attract more customers for routine and lifesaving procedures as well as elective and cosmetic procedures has become more and more fierce. From the moment a customer sees an advert or a leaflet about the promotional offer at a private hospital to  how they are greeted at the hospital, to how they are treated by the healthcare workers and staff, to settling the bill at the end of your admission, consultation or investigation, the patient should feel that the money they have spent was worth the service. And to get that affirmation that we as a hospital has lived up to, and sometimes surpassing, the customers’ expectations. 

Most individuals sought after and follow professionals who are known very well under their speciality and also hospitals that offer the best of services. A customer wants to know from someone who they trust about the most reliable place that they can turn to for their health and no one chooses the second best when it comes to their own health – the power of word of mouth through real experiences and real testimonials. This is how you make the services more customer centric. To make sure that we cater to their needs and more importantly their expectations. To make sure that they know that they have chosen the right healthcare partner that will take care of them.”

Furthermore, the industry expert mentioned that improved healthcare services have extended life expectancy over the world and that it has resulted in an ageing population.

“This aging population has created new requirements thus shifting healthcare needs and responses. The number of people suffering from chronic diseases has grown drastically due to the changes in lifestyles and external factors such as environmental pollution. Most of these chronic diseases require costly treatment. Therefore the needs are growing and exerting considerable demand on health systems to provide cost effective treatments to these diseases. Due to growing demand for healthcare mainly due to the aforementioned causes there is a funding challenge as well as skilled labour shortage. Healthcare is both catching up to and driving emerging technologies completely modernizing core transaction systems such as Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and the potential for growth is enormous. Rise of pandemics over the years has generated the requirement of the healthcare systems to implement effective ways to identify and contain these diseases at the earliest.”

On the topic of Medical Tourism in Sri Lanka, Nilantha stated that the prevailing pandemic situation is a disadvantage.

He explained: “When it comes to healthcare sector, quality remains as one of the most important factors in attracting medical tourists. Sri Lanka has one the most high quality healthcare systems in the world which is sometimes on par with the developed nations and definitely way ahead than most of the countries with the same level of economic development that of Sri Lanka. While quality is high, the costs of healthcare services remain to be a fraction that of the developed nations. This is a great opportunity for Sri Lankan healthcare providers to attract medical tourists from developed countries where the cost of healthcare services is very high and tourists from developing countries where the quality of healthcare service is low compared to Sri Lanka.”

In conclusion, the Director of Marketing, expressing his views on the COVID-19 vaccine, stated that it is the only way forward, but the time taken to measure safety and effectiveness is a major concern.