Business As Usual

The Medical City’s Dr. Alfredo Bengzon: The game changer

Maricor Zapata - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Dr. Alfredo Rafael Antonio Bengzon has always been a game changer. At least, that’s how his proud alma mater – the Ateneo Alumni Association, in particular – describes him.

The President and CEO of premier hospital The Medical City is also known for the 1988 Generic Drugs Law, his brainchild, when he was Health Secretary under President Corazon Aquino. 

Back then, Bengzon locked horns with giant multinational pharmaceutical companies, and since then, has upended the local pharmaceutical industry.

Today, generic drugs, both imported and homegrown, make up about 64 percent of all drugs sold in the local market, according to the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines. 

More noteworthy, perhaps, is that Filipino consumers are increasingly getting used to – and, no doubt, enjoying – the freedom of choosing cheaper generic medicines, instead of the usual, pricey, foreign brands.

Now, even at 79, doctor, educator, and businessman Bengzon shows no signs of backing down.

“I fell from the stairs last February,” he relates casually, “and since then, I have been regularly attending physical therapy sessions with our patients.  I call them ‘classmates.’”

Bengzon, a neurologist, is a staunch follower of liberal arts and social sciences, and, in his prime, almost became a Jesuit priest.  He says doctors like him “share a common humanity” with their patients.  Again, such philosophical attitude drives the unique business paradigm of The Medical City – the thing behind the hospital’s slogan, “Where patients are partners.”

For Bengzon, it’s about time doctor and patient changed the way they treat each other.                  

“We have to change our mindset and heart-set that the doctors always know best,” Bengzon says. “We, the doctors, are experts of our profession, but the patients are the masters of their body and life.  Therefore, the patient and the doctor must be co-responsible in managing the patient’s health.”

To Bengzon, such an idea makes business sense – perhaps, especially since people have become demanding nowadays. 

“The currency of the medical profession is the relationship built and nurtured between the one who serves and the one being served,” he says, with the doctor being the one who serves.

Bengzon points out that the doctor must stop acting like a mechanic, “puttering about here and there, to retune a passive patient’s chemical and physiological processes.”

“Doctor-patient relationship must be dynamic,” he explains, “with the doctor regarding the patient as a conscious, self-organizing human being with an active role in maintaining his health or remedying his illness. Both the doctor and patient must be able to communicate to each other and help each other interpret and make sense out of the patient’s maladies.”

Bengzon says, while the patient must volunteer information about his circumstances that could have something to do with his condition, the doctor must explain, in a way that’s easy to understand, his findings and all options available to the patient.  He calls it “tough love.”

“The patient has the right and obligation to question and demand,” says Bengzon.  In fact, he points out, he has made a hospital-wide directive for doctors to listen well to their patients or else the patients can go complain to him.

Bengzon says The Medical City’s “patient as partner’ philosophy is even more alive in the institution’s satellite clinics, strategically placed in malls and commercial areas frequented by most people.

“We’re the only hospital of our kind in the country,” says Bengzon. “We do not just have a grand stand-alone building, but also a network of ambulatory clinics offering the same world-class service.” 

He is not boasting. The Medical City is one of only four hospitals in the country that got the gold seal of the Joint Commission International, the world’s most prestigious mark and endorsement for quality patient care and safety, and organization management. The other three Philippine hospitals are St. Luke’s Medical Center, Makati Medical Center, and Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu.

Since 1996, The Medical City has been substantially investing in major expansion projects like the building of satellite clinics in the metropolis, now 30 and mostly in malls.

Bengzon and other doctors own 40 percent of The Medical City. The rest of the stock is held by several local and foreign corporations, one of them is the Lombard Investments Inc., a leading international private equity investment manager with offices in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and San Francisco.

Bengzon says The Medical City’s network of satellite clinics is not only a good business strategy, but also a socially responsible move.

He says this fixes the “mismatch” between a patient’s needed stay in the hospital and the actual length of recovery.  He points out that with some illnesses, for instance, it is only the initial phase that requires hospital care, as in diagnosis, surgery, and intensive hospital care. The recovery phase, he explains, does not need the complex care of the hospital anymore.

“Nature will just take its course in the recovery phase,” says Bengzon.  “Unnecessarily prolonged hospital stay can even raise the risk of infection. This is the part where the patient’s power to heal himself comes in.  That is why our ambulatory clinics go where the people are, for the patient’s convenience.”

On December 9, the 47-year-old hospital is set to open its 150-bed branch in the Global Gateway Logistics City in Clark, Pampanga, to serve both local and foreign clients in Central Luzon. It could be a good timing, considering that the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit is set to be held in the Philippines.

At the same time, Bengzon is excited and proud of his organization’s going global – still with the unique “patient as partner” brand – with the opening of its $215 million Guam Regional Medical City, the first private and non-US healthcare facility in that US territory.

Two years ago, Bengzon received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asia CEO Forum, the largest regular business event in the Philippines and considered one of the most important business networking events in Southeast Asia.

In this event, Bengzon said: “I truly believe that we Filipinos have the giftedness to bring things of great value to the world. And so we carry the obligation to stand as equals with the world’s other great nations and people.”











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