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Ambulances for India: Introduction

Tags: Acumen , Poverty , India , Social Enterprise , Leadership Development

Fujita, Chikako

July 29, 2011

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Chikako Fujita was selected for the Tokyo Foundation Acumen Fund Fellows Program (AFFP) for 2010–11. After undergoing training in New York, Chikako Fujita went to work with Dial 1298 (Ziqitza Healthcare Limited) in November 2010 as part of a one-year leadership development program. (The Acumen Fund is an investor in Dial 1298.)

India does not have a public ambulance system. Even when ambulances are available, often they are not properly equipped with necessary life-saving equipment. Dispatch and arrival can be so slow that by the time an ambulance arrives, the patient has already expired or expires en route.

Dial 1298 was founded by five young entrepreneurs in 2003 to help address these issues and to provide reliable and high-quality ambulance service regardless of the patient's income level. The Acumen Fund has been an investor in Dial 1298 since 2007.

To help improve the living standards of people in poverty, Dial 1298 uses a multi-track pricing system that takes patient income into consideration. This pricing system is the core of the company’s business model.

  • Customers who choose to be taken to a private or membership-based medical facility will be billed the full price of ambulance services.
  • For customers opting for public medical facilities, the cost of services will be discounted or waived entirely based on state and local subsidies.
  • Services will also be offered free of charge to patients in the event of a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other extreme circumstance.

Dial 1298 has been rapidly growing from its humble beginnings with just two ambulances in Mumbai, Maharashtra. Today, Dial 1298 owns a fleet of 50 ambulances equipped with advanced medical equipment and operates a call center 24 hours a day, 365 day a year.

The company uses a combination of GPS (global positioning system) data and an RTS (real-time tracking system) to dispatch the nearest ambulance. On average, Dial 1298 ambulances arrive in 15–20 minutes, dramatically faster than in the past. (The average arrival time in Japan is around 7 minutes).

intro.JPGIn the Mumbai region, Dial 1298 dispatches ambulances approximately 60-70 times a day. In fiscal 2010, the company rang up net sales of an equivalent of 120 million yen.

Even so, the company barely turns a profit. Dial 1298’s greatest challenge is to offer greater services to the disadvantaged without turning the company's focus toward wealthy customers, which would consequently lead to higher profits.

Dial 1298 is expanding. The company has been commissioned to operate the 279 ambulances owned by the governments of surrounding states like Kerala, Bihar, and Rajasthan, and it also plans to expand services into the state of Punjab.

In this series of reports, Fujita shares her experiences training in New York and working in the field in India.

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