THE PREFERRED DESTINATION
World-class treatment and cheaper deals lure medical tourists from across the world to India
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.
INDIA’S POPULARITY AS AMEDICAL
TOURISM DESTINATION IS
ON THE RISE