Dr Palvinderjit: Passionate pursuit of affordable healthcare

His dream for cheaper medical care has seen his path cross billionaires like . Tony Fernandez and Ratan Tata

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 30 Oct 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Dr Palvinderjit Singh with Ratan Tata, one of India's most prominent entrepreneur - PHOTO / SUPPLIED
Dr Palvinderjit Singh with Ratan Tata, one of India’s most prominent entrepreneur – PHOTO / SUPPLIED

Dr Palvinderjit Singh, a 28-year old Malaysian-born doctor, is working relentlessly on a plan to give Malaysians healthcare at an affordable price.

The young doctor, who has teamed up with the founders of no-frills airliner Air Asia, is also eyeing the larger market of Southeast Asia.

The dream is much larger. Tune Care, the healthcare arm of Tune Group of Companies, is also eyeing the huge Indian market.

“We plan to enter the Indian healthcare market,” Dr Palvinderjit tells Asia Samachar, an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia, in an email interview.

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“While it is still in early stages of planning (for India), we hope to launch a centre-of-excellence in cardiac care and Punjab is top in my list.

“We Punjabis have a passionate love affair with our lip-smacking cuisine – rich ‘butter-chicken’, extra ghee in saag and dhal, gulab jamun, jelebis and other oil-rich ‘Punjabi’ delicacies,” he said.

Tune Care counts on the behemoth Tata Group of Companies as one of its partners.

“Mr. Ratan Tata has taken a personal interest in this project, given what Tune Care intends to achieve…..[They ] are very keen to introduce the Tune Care model to the masses,” he said.

Tune Group is founded by Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun, the pair that founded Air Asia.  In 2013, Tata Sons had joined hands with AirAsia and Arun Bhatia’s Telestra Tradeplace to start low cost carrier AirAsia India.

With more than 100 companies in 85 countries, the Tata Group has its tentacles in a wide variety of businesses.

In 2008, the Tatas produced Nano, badged as the cheapest car in the world with a price tag around Rs 1 lakh (about RM6,300 or S$2,000).

Dr Palvinderjit was born in Petaling Jaya and grew up in Subang Jaya. He studied at SMK Subang Jaya SS14. He graduated as a medical doctor (MB BCH BAO) from the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RSCI).



How did you get into Tune Care? What’s the story here?

Tune Care is the healthcare arm of Tune Group of Companies and will encompass Tune Hospitals, Tune Clinics and other related medical services. It’s primary goal is to provide people in Asean countries affordable healthcare. Our partner includes Tata Group of Companies. Mr. Ratan Tata has taken a personal interest in this project, given what Tune Care intends to achieve.

Tune Care is my brainchild and I’ve have been working on this vision for several years. I am co-founding this with Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun. Currently, I lead a team of doctors, lawyers and finance experts to make this a reality. The group plans to launch and introduce services/ products in stages from early 2017.

What is Tune Care?

Tune Care is about delivering affordable medical services to every and any level in the community emphasising on value care where value is defined as improving one or more outcomes without raising costs or lowering costs and without compromising outcomes, or both.

Are Malaysians and people in the region ready for such an offering? Why?

Affordable healthcare is long overdue in Asean. In 2015, the population was estimated at 625 million. Approximately 60% (or 375 million) of this population sustain their own health expenses. Based on World Health Organisation (WHO), this figure is extremely high and unhealthy.

Currently, the medical inflation rate in Malaysia is estimated at 10-15%/ year (significantly higher compared to other industries). Health problems do not discriminate between age and gender. Unlike travel, hobbies or entertainment costs, medical expenses are non-discretionary. If one is sick or injured one needs treatment. Having adequate reserves and a good medical coverage can be the difference between getting the care and cure and one filled with financial challenges or worse not receiving the required treatment.

In late 2015, Malaysia’s population just tipped the 30 million mark. A 2015 report by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia and McKinsey Global Institution found that 60.7% of Malaysians are unhealthy:

  • 17 million suffer from non-communicable diseases (NDCs) due to poor food intake, alcohol and tobacco consumption
  • 47% are obese (14.1 million)
  • 1.26 million of the people under-15 are obese
  • 4.7 million active smokers, majority start before the age of 18
  • 5 million have diabetes
  • 5.8 million have hypertension
  • 6.2 million have dyslipidemia (high cholesterol)
  • At least 12 million have desk jobs that encourage sedentary activities

NCDs are the main cause of premature death among adults. The disabilities and premature deaths are among the economically productive members of our population. These conditions have significant implications on healthcare costs and drive increasing demand for relatively expensive treatment and long-term rehabilitative care. Many tend to have very unhappy long term relationships with the healthcare system.

My family has seen its fair share of disabilities as a result of NCDs; we have lost family members. And this is happening in almost every family. Many have begun to accept that NCDs are inherent; we blame our genes without taking responsibility for lifestyles that we lead. Everyone thinks that he/she has a fortified immune system until it is too late. Tune Care aims to provide a solution to these issue through various services.

Any plans to venture beyond Asean?

We plan to enter the Indian healthcare market. Our partners are fortune 500 companies (based in India) and are very keen to introduce the Tune Care model to the masses. While it is still in early stages of planning (for India), we hope to launch a centre-of-excellence in cardiac care and Punjab is top in my list. Punjab’s prevalence of cardiovascular diseases is among the top 3 in India.

We, Punjabis, have a passionate love affair with our lip-smacking cuisine – rich ‘butter-chicken’, extra ghee in saag and dhal, gulab jamun, jelebis and other oil-rich ‘Punjabi’ delicacies. Coupled with sedentary lifestyles and family traits, we have a higher risk of acquiring cardiovascular diseases compared to other races in India. A recent study showed that 49% of all deaths in Punjab are due to some form of heart ailment.

Besides cardiac care, we are actively seeking ways to make cancer care affordable to the masses. Tata Trust owns and operates a non-profit state-or-the-art cancer hospital in Calcutta. However, it does not have a sustainable model. The hospital is run and sustained only because of grants from the Tata Group and the Government of India, Department of Atomic Energy. We are still exploring various strategies and models to tackle the high costs associated with cancer care.

Tycoon Tony Fernandez (middle) with Dr Palvinderjit Singh (right) - PHOTO / PROVIDED
Tycoon Tony Fernandez (middle) with Dr Palvinderjit Singh (right) – PHOTO / PROVIDED

Describe a typical meeting with Tony.

Tony has been instrumental in this project. He is my mentor and role model. Our meetings are always informal – it could either be at the gym or by the poolside (never in a boardroom!); a relaxed environment is ideal for ideas to flow. Tony is a rebel entrepreneur and our discussions always revolve around ideas that challenge the status quo and we brainstorm various solutions that create value to the masses.

Have you been involved in any Sikh-related activities? Do elaborate.

My sisters and I run makeshift clinics on a yearly basis in Punjab. We partner local doctors and organisations to identify communities that need help and run health camps (focus on eye care, general health and drug abuse). There are many homeless and poor people at the bottom of the social set up who seek our services. They have legal right to health, but are unable to access it. So our set up is a one-stop-clinic for the poor people. Funding is always an issue but we Sikhs are very generous; The ones who hear about our clinic (by word of mouth) volunteer their time, donate medical supplies, basic clothing etc.

What are the lessons learnt in this journey?

Many people think that this journey has been glamorous. When you build a startup, smiling on the cover of Forbes is the end of the line, and only for a very select few.

When you build a startup, you risk everything. I’ve poured everything into this. It’s a big risk! It isn’t glamorous. Some nights you are awake thinking about great ideas and solutions. Other nights you think about what could go wrong, and what would happen if your startup failed. When you build a startup, you are in constant fear because you are per definition in a fragile situation, in an emerging market, and with very little security trying to do things that have never been done before. However, any entrepreneur will admit that fear is the engine of a startup.

Building a startup isn’t glamorous at all. It’s hard work, requires tremendous investments of time, energy and commitment. It consumes all of your emotional energy and attention. Building a startup means hardly having time for family, no time for a real social life, no time to take holidays, and every single minute of your waking life is devoted to thinking about your startup.

But if you are passionate enough, you will find a solution to every problem that arises. The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of a mistake. Form a support group. Find a role model who could advice you whenever you need help. So if you are really passionate to solve a problem, don’t give up and never take NO for an answer.

Tell us more about the survey Tune Care is doing?

Before we roll out our products and services, we want to know in detail what the general population require, what has been lacking and what will be the primary target. The questionnaire was intended to reveal about Malaysians and their lifestyles. The survey is designed so as to make it easy for all levels of population to complete and without being cumbersome.


Topless Tony Fernandes with Sikh medical doctor (Asia Samachar, 10 Oct 2016)

Penang gurdwara health talks for Guru Nanak birthday (Asia Samachar, 7 Oct 2016)

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