The Waiting-Room Warrior

How Neena Kanwar of KMH made a name for herself by reducing medical wait times from several months to a few days

“Honestly, I don’t think achieving success matters whether you are a man or a woman. I don’t think of it like that. I simply think about the benefits of working for myself. Success for anyone is about doing what you want—what you love. And I am. It’s a lot of fun.” —Neena Kanwar

No one likes to be kept waiting for a medical appointment when they’re not feeling well. But imagine waiting a year for treatment of a potentially life-threatening illness. That’s exactly what was happening to patients with heart disease in the Ontario area back in the late 1980s. “To see a cardiologist, the wait time could be four to six months,” recalls Neena Kanwar, president of KMH Cardiology and Diagnostic Centres. “Then the cardiologist would decide they needed a test and that would take two to three months, and by the time they got treatment, it could take a year.”

Kanwar, who was a nuclear-medicine technologist, saw both a need and a way to improve the system. In 1988, armed with nothing more than a great idea and a healthy dose of self-confidence, Kanwar struck out on her own, making a very convincing argument, first to her husband, who agreed to sell their home to generate start-up funds; next to some colleagues, whom she persuaded to become partners (she bought them out in the early 1990s); and finally to a bank manager who agreed to provide a loan. Clearly, they all saw something in both Kanwar’s idea and her self-assuredness that spelled success. They were right.

Today, KMH has eight locations throughout Ontario, including its headquarters in Mississauga, and four facilities in the United States. “I had never run a lab before,” Kanwar says. “I just found out what I needed to do to get an imaging centre started and went about doing it.”

KMH provides access to rapidly evolving medical technology, state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, and highly qualified specialists. Its 150 employees deliver nuclear medicine and MRI and diagnostic services to 85,000 patients annually. Today, KMH provides the testing within two to three days. “That’s a definite paradigm shift,” Kanwar says.

KMH’s competitive edge stems from the fact that its imaging and health records have always been digital. “We don’t have any legacy systems,” Kanwar says. “We haven’t had paper charts and films for more than 15 years. Everything is electronic and available for physicians to review online through a secure server, so that makes us very efficient and substantially reduces the wait time for patients to get results and treatment.”

A board of medical directors helps KMH stay on top of the latest trends. The company is also heavily involved in ongoing research and clinical trials, which helps it track the latest technologies and medicines in action, and view the results firsthand. “Some [projects] are related to new medications; others to new imaging techniques and agents,” Kanwar says. “If we participate, then we’re helping to improve medicine, and that’s a way of giving back to the community. We want to advance the knowledge of medicine and ultimately help the patients.” When a trial is successful, then KMH benefits from already having experience with that type of testing or medication. “It puts us a step ahead,” Kanwar says.

For her visionary thinking and business success, Kanwar has received a variety of awards and recognitions over the last few years. For six of the last seven years, she has been recognized as one of Chatelaine’s Top 100 Women Business Owners. She’s made Profit magazine’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs list annually since 2006, and she received the Government of Ontario’s New Pioneer Award in Entrepreneurship in 2009. Last year, Kanwar was named Entrepreneur of the Year by B’Nai B’Rith.

Kanwar’s appreciation for all she has gained in life is evident. In 2006, Kanwar and her husband, Vijay Jeet, donated $5 million to the Credit Valley Hospital Foundation in Mississauga. The funds were used to help with the construction of the new Vijay Jeet and Neena Kanwar Ambulatory Centre.

For Kanwar, satisfaction comes in helping people. “We get e-mails or letters from patients saying how well they were looked after by the staff, and they want to commend how the facility looks or how they were treated,” she says. “Those are the times I sit back and feel that we’ve really accomplished something. There are even times when patients tell us that we basically saved their lives. It’s not the revenue that satisfies me; it’s being able to help patients, and getting e-mails like these. That makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

Going forward, KMH is continuing to acquire more facilities in both the United States and Canada, and is exploring the possibility of packaging and selling its homegrown electronic health-record software. Wherever there is a patient in need of the best diagnostic treatment, Kanwar wants to be there.