World-class treat­ment and cheaper deals lure med­i­cal tourists from across the world to In­dia

India Today - - HEALTH SPECIAL - By Na­gen­dra Swamy

Though NRIS have come back to In­dia for elec­tive treat­ment over the decades, it is in the last 10 years that med­i­cal value travel has evolved into a lu­cra­tive in­dus­try in the coun­try. It got a shot in the arm when Pak­istan’s Baby Noor trav­elled to Ban­ga­lore in July 2003. Ten years on, med­i­cal value travel is a fast-grow­ing sec­tor with an an­nual growth of 30 per cent year-on-year. But at present, in spite of an im­pres­sive growth—from US $450 mil­lion in 2006 to $2 bil­lion in 2013—In­dia at­tracts only one per cent (1.2 mil­lion pa­tients in 2012) of global med­i­cal tourists, whereas nearby coun­tries like Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land and Malaysia get around eight per cent (8.7 mil­lion in 2012).

The choice of In­dia as a med­i­cal tourism des­ti­na­tion is of­ten de­pen­dent on the re­gions pa­tients fly from. From the UK, pa­tients come for those pro­ce­dures that are ei­ther costlier in their own coun­try or for which they have to wait long un­der their Na­tional Health Ser­vice. Pa­tients from other Euro­pean coun­tries and the US choose In­dia be­cause of the cost fac­tor, or be­cause den­tal and cos­metic treat­ments are not cov­ered by in­sur­ance in their coun­tries. For West Asians and Africans, In­dia of­fers bet­ter treat­ment.

The im­pres­sive growth in med­i­cal tourism has catal­ysed crit­i­cal changes in the qual­ity of health­care, which will drive the growth over the next five years. It is al­ready help­ing the in­dus­try evolve a com­pos­ite and struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment, where all ma­jor play­ers in the health sec­tor will be im­mensely ben­e­fited. These are the find­ings of a

three-pronged fac­to­rial anal­y­sis.

Clin­i­cal ex­per­tise and tech­nol­ogy In­dian ex­per­tise in the clin­i­cal arena is well-ac­cepted glob­ally. In­dian doc­tors and nurses, who have done well abroad, are now re­turn­ing to the coun­try, en­hanc­ing the con­fi­dence of med­i­cal tourists. To­day, well-known In­dian hos­pi­tals are on a par with in­ter­na­tional ones with re­spect to in­fra­struc­ture, qual­ity of care and clin­i­cal out­comes.

Cost and in­sur­ance With other com­pet­i­tive mar­kets like Thai­land pric­ing out, med­i­cal value trav­ellers are look­ing at In­dia as a vi­able op­tion. In­dia of­fers qual­ity treat­ment at low cost. A com­pli­cated sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure is done here at a tenth of what it costs in the US. Most In­dian hos­pi­tals also have in­ter­na­tional in­sur­ance brands em­pan­elled with them to cater to pa­tients. Sup­port ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture The in­crease in med­i­cal value travel has prompted hos­pi­tals to en­hance sup­port ser­vices such as set­ting up exclusive in­ter­na­tional cells that help cus­tomers with travel, visa, trans­la­tion, food, le­gal and statu­tory is­sues, post-hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion stay or sight­see­ing, in ad­di­tion to fol­low-up as­sis­tance through telemedicine af­ter they re­turn home.

The most pop­u­lar ar­eas of med­i­cal tourism in In­dia are car­diac surgery, or­gan trans­plant, spine care, joint re­place­ment, cos­metic and or­thodon­tic surgery, neu­ro­surgery, bari­atric surgery, be­sides IFV and sur­ro­gacy. Bone mar­row trans­plant, stem cell ther­apy and hair trans­plant are also pop­u­lar treat­ments for pa­tients com­ing from abroad.

A salu­tary spin-off is the emer­gence of in­te­grated medi- cine wherein indige­nous sys­tems and prac­tices such as home­opa­thy, natur­opa­thy, Ayurveda, Unani and yoga are pre­scribed, fol­low­ing ac­tive al­lo­pathic in­ter­ven­tion, to en­gen­der speed­ier re­cov­ery. With a rise in chronic non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases and the pur­suit of healthy age­ing, in­te­grated treat­ments have be­come pop­u­lar, leading to ‘well­ness tourism’ in ad­di­tion to ‘ill­ness tourism’.

Med­i­cal tourism is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a com­pre­hen­sive pack­age of ser­vices in­clud­ing air­lines, travel and food, to meet all the needs of an in­ter­na­tional pa­tient at state-ofthe-art hos­pi­tals. This is why med­i­cal treat­ment for var­i­ous ail­ments is in­clu­sive of re­cu­per­a­tive leisure at world-class tourist re­sorts. Ayurveda-in­spired well­ness tourism earned ap­prox­i­mately Rs 5,000 crore in the last fi­nan­cial year.

In a re­port, Aba­cus In­ter­na­tional says a for­eign med­i­cal tourist spends on aver­age US $362 a day, com­pared to the aver­age in­ter­na­tional trav­eller’s spend of US $144. So a mil­lion health tourists a year could bring up to US $5 bil­lion to the In­dian econ­omy. A CII- McKin­sey re­port says that In­dia can get to this tar­get by 2018. Recog­nis­ing this, the Na­tional Health Pol­icy made treat­ment of for­eign­ers an “ex­port” and deemed it “el­i­gi­ble for all fis­cal in­cen­tives ex­tended to ex­port earn­ings”. There are con­cerns that need to be ad­dressed, from qual­ity of care to le­gal pro­tec­tion of pa­tients from mal­prac­tice to fol­low-up care, but over­all, the in­dus­try is look­ing up.




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