Inspiring World Class Cardiac Care

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To build a world class hospital that remains accessible to many is not an easy mission. Challenging as it is, the National Heart Institute (IJN) has made it its raison de’tre for more than 20 years.  One of IJN’s longest serving surgeons, Dato Dr Azhari Yakub, bears witness to how a long line of past and present members of staff managed to make it happen. Now the current CEO, Dato Dr Azhari tells Top 10 of Malaysia about the institution’s continuing effort to stay true to its mission.

Dr Azhari joined IJN in 1992. He counted as his many memorable and defining moments the complicated and eye-opening clinical cases that came to IJN. Although he had received his qualification in Glasgow, the local fledgling heart hospital was the true training ground for him and other young doctors at that time in the specialized field of cardiac care.

“What I managed to witness and learned is something which I don’t think I could have if I were to be in other countries,” Dr Azhari recalls.

It is also, for the institution, a treasured accumulation of experience. Coupled with the staff members’ collective focus on its mission to be world class, it made IJN a forefront heart hospital it is today.

“When in the past, doctors had to go to abroad to receive training in cardiology, now we have doctors from Middle East and Japan applying to be trained in IJN. The comment among the fraternity of heart doctors is that cardiac service here is one of the best in Asia Pacific, which is an honor,” he says. “Our achievement is in terms of productivity, such as the number of cases we manage to handle at a given period of time, clinical outputs, cost containment, and the good feedback received about our customer service.”

“Our financial statement in the past 2 years reflects it. We are able to reinvest our financial for development of services, bonus and remuneration for staff,” reveals Dr Azhari.

He is hesitant to take the credits although he has been in the management of the hospital for 8 years, the first 5 of which he served as deputy CEO. He speaks softly, and still takes patient appointments everyday as a senior consultant cardiothoracic surgeon. He gave acknowledgment to his predecessors and colleagues for putting in place a system from what they have learned.

 (The success) is built up from efforts of all past CEOs and staff members. The system, support from the government and trust from the public has helped IJN to achieve its successes.

Dr Azhari allows himself, however, to offer his thinking on how IJN should stay on top of its field.

“Cardiology is already too general.  The key for the future is sub specializations and to be the best in those,” he says.

“We already have doctors sub-specializing in heart failures, emergency team for primary coronary intervention where patients can have artery opening procedure within 3-4 hours, specialists in congenital heart disease and so forth. Our doctors are leaders in their sub fields and are often invited to share their experience and we are also sending our doctors to train on sub-specializations.”

“The next thing for the future is imaging and we aim to be the region’s imaging center, and we have been investing in top range imaging equipment,” he adds.

Would the drive to be up-to-date with the latest equipment and trend push the cost up as well?

“Providing quality care for the patients is a priority in IJN. The public should see us as a world class hospital that offers reasonable charges as well. While rising healthcare cost can be a challenge for the sector, I see it as an opportunity to serve more people,” says Dr Azhari.

He explains that IJN’s position as a very niche hospital confers it an advantage in negotiating for the procurement of medicine and medical consumables. It is able to procure in larger volume compared to general hospitals, thereby saving by way of economies of scale. The saving is then passed on to patients in terms of lower treatment costs.

“IJN charges 20-30% lower than private hospitals. We treat mostly local patients but we have attracted foreign patients as well,” says Dr Azhari. “In fact, to make cardiac care accessible and affordable to people is part of our mission and corporate social responsibility,” he reiterates.

Other parallel efforts include the IJN Foundation, which pays for the treatment of needy patients, the mobile ‘clinic’ – a trailer with heart screening equipment to conduct screenings to those in rural areas and the promoting a healthy lifestyle as a health partner during the Tour de Langkawi event.

“At the end of the day prevention is always better,” says Dr Azhari. “It might be bad for business, but IJN is also an advocate of healthy living,” he quips.

An avid cyclist, Dr Azhari takes to the bike with IJN colleagues to other states when his schedule is free. On their way, they would let their hair down to indulge in their favourite food. But Dr Azhari remains a lean figure even though he is already 56.

“I am happy that I managed to balance my life quite well. I have a very supportive wife, who understands that sometimes I need to put in long hours at work. When at work I put all my mind and energy into it, and likewise when at home,” says Dr Azhari. “I always believe that one has to have other interests besides work. For me, I work hard, play hard, and pray hard.”