A healthier approach to medical care


Creating a home for over 1 000 healthcare professionals and other team members, as well as providing quality care to over one million patients every year, the Intercare Group’s unique and innovative model for the provision of a variety of healthcare services has seen the company’s network grow to 18 multi-disciplinary medical and dental centres, four day hospitals and three sub-acute and rehabilitation hospitals across the country.

Founded in 2000 with the establishment of its first medical and dental centre in Lynnwood, Pretoria, in 2002, Intercare’s expansion has been impressive. Co-founders Dr Hendrik Hanekom and Dr George Veliotes attribute the company’s success to the extensive research of the South African market and their dedication to offering their patients exceptional value for money.

“We looked at numerous studies and reports on healthcare across the globe and we took that information and applied it to the South African context. We first asked ourselves, ‘What do South Africans need?’, and that’s when we identified a primary need for a one-stop shop. What we have since developed is an integrated healthcare model that is patient-centred. Healthcare consumers want extended hours, quality and value.

These are just some of the ideas that Intercare was built on,” says Dr Hanekom, CEO of Intercare.

“Both Hendrik and I have come from backgrounds where we have helped to shape the healthcare policy in SA. We both had a good understanding of what was happening in the local market; we read the situation and numerous studies before we established our first facility 15 years ago. By the end of the year, we will be opening additional centres to take our total number of facilities to 30,” adds Dr Veliotes, Intercare Chairman.

Ahead of their time, the Intercare Medical and Dental Centres were intended to be easily accessible to the public and, for this reason, many are based on the retail concept of availability under one roof—saving the patient time, money and effort.

Services at the centres include doctors, dentists, oral hygienists, pathologists, radiologists, physiotherapists and optometrists. Intercare Day Hospitals offer an alternative to acute care facilities and procedures performed at day hospitals do not require an overnight stay.

Intercare’s first Sub-Acute and Rehabilitation Hospital opened in the Western Cape in 2006, providing a comprehensive and cost-effective programme for patients who have suffered an acute event as a result of illness, injury or disease. These patients have a determined course of treatment and do not require any intensive diagnostic or invasive procedures.

“Intercare has moved away from the costly and outdated traditional healthcare model, and we have embraced more contemporary, international trends in value-based healthcare. Creating strategic relationships has also always been part of the Intercare way, and the recent investment by Mediclinic into our business will, I believe, allow for more of a competitive advantage, putting us firmly on track to deliver on our commitment to become the leaders in healthcare,” Dr Hanekom says.

As with any regular business, Intercare has faced its fair share of challenges, including both financing its new venture and hiring the right people. The first task involved finding the best doctors and dentists, knowing only too well that if the first centre was not a success, their business would not be viable.

“The next challenge, and probably one of our bigger ones in those early days, was finding the right spot in a retail centre. We wanted to move from away from suburban areas and into an accessible retail environment.

“Property developers were hesitant to let us in, even though it was already commonplace in Europe at that time. I remember a property developer saying to me, ‘I don’t want sick people in my shopping centre.’ But, we believed in our business model and overcame these challenges through creating the right partnerships. Today, the concept of medical facilities in the retail space has also become more popular,” he explains.

The challenges of opening a new business aside, Dr Hanekom and Dr Veliotes have also had to navigate a number of problems facing the medical industry at large, both on a local and global scale. According to Dr Veliotes, an ageing population, an increase in chronic diseases and new technology have all come to have a massive impact on medical costs, the biggest challenge facing health systems worldwide.

“The one big difference with healthcare in South Africa is the large gap between private and public sectors. Internationally, there is far more collaboration between private and public healthcare sectors and, more and more, we see the two combine forces to make optimal use of their resources. SA certainly needs more work in this area.

“Medical costs are also increasing at a substantially higher rate than inflation. Overall, the healthcare challenges we are experiencing are complex and interrelated. But, we have found that healthcare delivery models like ours, where we use an integrative and collaborative approach, are more likely to deliver positive results and value. The Intercare model is the preferred model, and it will become the model for the future,” he says.

Hanekom believes that the Intercare model is more successful because of its focus on providing the right level of care at the right time.

“What is also important is that we don’t focus only on sickness but also on wellness,” says Dr Hanekom. “And for this reason, we have introduced a new business unit to the Intercare family, what is really a risk management company, called Intercare Salubrity.”

Salubrity, which means ‘conducive or favourable to health or wellbeing’, offers both wellness services and chronic disease management to everyone from medical scheme members, to company’s employees, individual patients and communities.

“Salubrity is specialised, more clinical and uses a very special methodology to coordinate the care of people based on their health status. It is about optimally managing the care of individuals while ensuring the right clinical protocols are used.

Chronic disease management involves continuous monitoring of the patient and their lifestyle, providing the correct diet, exercise and in many cases, also medication to manage their conditions well. We believe in preventing future complications and, in some cases, re-hospitalisation, while also providing these patients with a better quality of life,” Dr Hanekom says.

“On the other hand, our wellness services prevent healthy patients from moving up that pyramid into the chronic disease stage. Essentially, it’s about catering to people with different needs at different stages of their health,” he adds.

For Dr Veliotes, this latest offering proves just how pioneering the Intercare approach is, with the majority of their services growing outside of the bigger, more typical framework.

“When it comes to chronic diseases, you no longer need big hospitals, and many of these patients can receive the necessary treatment as outpatients. Technology also makes it much easier, and surgery has become less invasive. Sub-acute hospitals fit in right between hospitals and home, and patients generally tend to recover more quickly when they are at home, a place where they feel the most comfortable.

“In future, we see substantial growth opportunities in the local market, which we are confident will be enhanced through the digital health model. Digital health solutions are available internationally and locally, and although we will embrace the use of technology to enhance the patient experience, we still believe that healthcare will always be human focussed. Many digital technologies are not successful because they’ve removed the human face, and the focus moves to high-frequency engagement by placing technology on top,” he says.

For both doctors, their success is measured by their happy customers. Intercare has received a number of star awards for the best medical facilities and each centre focused on providing people with high-quality, readily available and affordable healthcare.

“If we failed to do that we would be defeating our objectives. For us, it’s all about giving people better value for money, and our growth is a testimony to that. The whole patient experience is a journey, and we work hard to ensure we don’t just have happy patients, but also happy doctors and happy staff,” Dr Hanekom says.

Prior to the two doctors joining forces to start Intercare, Dr Hanekom and Dr Veliotes worked together at the South African Medical Association (SAMA). During this time, they gave guidance to the medical profession on the future of healthcare worldwide, advocating for cooperation within multi-disciplinary and multi-professional healthcare delivery systems, more participation in preventative and promotive healthcare, as well as identifying and implementing more cost-effective therapies.

“The industry was ready for change; it just needed someone to take the lead and be the catalyst. George and I, as healthcare providers and doctors, decided to be those catalysts,” Dr Hanekom says.

About Dr Hanekom

Dr Hanekom obtained an MBChB from the University of Pretoria in 1978 and practised as a general practitioner from 1980 to 1987. He then joined the South African Medical Association, where he became the Chief Executive in 1990 and served in this capacity until 1999.

He also served as a board member of the World Medical Association for eight years and chaired the socio-medical affairs committee during that time. He was also an advisor to the Director-General of the World Health Organisation.

“I would like to see myself as a transformational leader, inspiring and establishing direction, aligning and enabling people. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that no individual, however gifted they may be, can solve all problems. You need to surround yourself with capable and trustworthy people,” he says.

About Dr Veliotes

Dr Veliotes qualified as a medical doctor from the University of Pretoria in 1985 and obtained a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) at Wits Business School. From 1993 to 1996, he headed the Health Policy and Private Practice divisions of the South African Medical Association. In this position, he was actively involved in the formulation of health policy and participated in many national forums dealing with private and public health sector issues.

In 1997, he co-chaired the Managed Care Committee established by the Department of Health to formulate policy on managed healthcare in South Africa. He also serves on the boards of several organisations locally and internationally where he specialises in integrated healthcare delivery systems.

“For me, it’s about having a vision for the future, with the participation of your team. My approach to leadership involves integrity and trust, and I believe that if you are a leader in the healthcare industry, you need to have a caring culture. You need to understand the specific requirements of the end user or in this case, the patient, as well as the associated anxiety that comes with many medical procedures. And not only for the patient but also the unpleasant effects for the family and the workplace,” he says. 

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