The Indian healthcare industry is growing rapidly and is expected to become a $280 billion (more than 17 lakh crore) industry by 2020. Rise in income standards and an increase in older population, the explosion of lifestyle diseases and desire to cater to the needs of the medical tourists (MT) are a few factors that are feeding this growth. Currently, the size of the medical tourism industry in India in value terms is estimated at a little over $3 billion, with tourist arrivals estimated at 230,000. The government recognizes the treatment of international patients as an export, with consequent tax sops. The high skill level of doctors in the country, combined with the lowest medical fee is what makes India such a great destination for healthcare. As of today, there is almost a difference of $1,000-2,000 between India’s and its competitor Thailand’s surgical procedures viz. bone marrow transplant, heart transplant, knee replacement or cosmetic body contouring. Number of people arriving in the country for medical treatment is set to double over the next four years, as per a report by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Fortis, max, mayo, Ivy, Alchemist and some other hospitals in the private sector and PGI in the public sector, at Chandigarh have the potential to attract medical tourists. New centres with ultra modern technology and highly skilled man power are the need of the hour to improve healthcare and to promote MT. However, it is not a cakewalk. It will require good packaging and marketing to succeed.

New Government’s emphasis may help

Medical tourism is a priority area of the new BJP government as per its manifesto. While the India’s Prime minister feels tourism can bring big bucks to the nation’s kitty, the label on the country’s face like ‘rape capital of the world or negative publicity due to scams, corrupt practices in support services, poor infrastructure, poor marketing of the Indian doctors’ skill, hype of  unethical practices in medical profession is disquieting.  Recent policy decision of the Government to allow 100% FDI in the manufacture of medical devices is a step in the right direction. Major corporations such as Tata, Fortis, Max, Wockhardt and Apollo Hospitals have made significant investments in setting up modern hospitals and tourism-related services to cater to the new brand of visitors from abroad. Growing insurance market, strong pharmaceutical industry, cheap international travel, and quality health care are increasingly making India a preferred tourist destination. Medical  tourists from countries such as the US, UK, and Canada and from neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and China visit India. Clearly, there are economic advantages for choosing English-speaking India for certain procedures e g heart bypass procedure costs roughly $140,000 without any insurance in the US. The same procedure, costs around $7,000 or Rs 3 lakh in India.  Procedures such as hip and knee replacement, face lift, cataract surgery and gastric bypass are far more affordable in India, including the cost of travel and accommodation.

 Credibility, safety and convenience must for medical tourists

While our services are highly skilled and patient friendly to the medical tourists, a regulator is necessary to monitor the standards, delivery and outcomes. In a survey it was found that 51% medical tourists were from Africa, 18% from Middle East and rest from other countries. Their major concerns were competence of doctors, competence of staff, and professionalism in management of hospital, and facilitation and care available during this stage. From the moment a client contacts a medical tourist agency and tells what her medical needs are, they should become their guide, liaison, and coordinator, and serve as a conduit of information between the client and the hospital and work with the client to determine the best facilities and staff to handle their particular medical needs. The patient will look for substantially reduced costs, immediate access to treatment without any waiting, easy travel, least of paperwork formalities in addition to recreational facilities, purchased as a package, meaning that in some cases it can act like a mini-vacation.

Safe travel and sure good outcome, reasonable charges, liability in case of adverse outcome,  and arrangements for adequate recuperation, and to ensure they are medically fit enough to travel home. Should any complications arise once the patient has returned home, they will need some arrangement to be made in home country as a part of the package.

What more the Government may do to promote medical tourism!

  •  The government needs to step in and provide basic healthcare at affordable price to its own citizens first and then provide infrastructure services which will improve access to high quality centres for medical tourists.
  •  India should consider offering visa-on-arrival and partner with medical and tourism providers to streamline easy and risk free accessibility.
  • Raise quality standards to meet Western providers, besides proper accreditation and requisite standardization systems in place, and also a tripartite synergy between hospitals, tour operators and the government.
  • Indian hospitals could target the neglected populations of those countries and draw them here to provide a cheaper alternative.
  • Standardization of a price band for graded hospitals and a quality assurance model should be taken up immediately to take medical tourism ahead.
  • Revenue generated by medical tourism could subsidize the healthcare system for the common man, where only 0.9% of the country’s budget is earmarked. But it is also feared that a technology-centric approach to healthcare meant for the elite class, can enhance the cost of care to the common man too.

Synergy between religious and medical tourism already exists. Govt of Haryana has been approached to consider Mata Mansadevi and Nadhasahib as the centres  for prospective medical tourism.

Dr. R.Kumar

 

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