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Medical Tourism: Achieving The USD 9 Billion Mark

Medical tourism has seen a steady rise in the last decade. This is a result of increased healthcare privatization, liberal visa policies, availability of highly skilled doctors and healthcare professionals, and economical access to treatment of serious diseases. India is now one of the most sought after destinations for medical tourism.

We more than doubled the foreign tourist arrivals to 4.9 lakhs in 2017 (from 2.3 lakhs in 2015). As such, the claim by the Ministry of Tourism that India’s medical tourism will hit the USD 9 billion mark is not farfetched. There needs to be continuity of the current regulations for medical tourism and the introduction of new measures to promote India as a medical tourism destination.

Access to the latest drugs and devicesThe foreign patients are attracted to India because of the availability of innovative drugs, cutting- edge medical devices, and advanced infrastructure of the hospitals. All the latest treatment and therapies are available in private hospitals in India. Leading hospital chains like Apollo, Max Healthcare, Fortis, Medanta etc. are the major buyers of the latest drugs and medical devices for the patient’s use. The government should encourage ease of access for the latest drugs and medical devices by having a robust and quick approval system for new drugs and devices.

Keeping costs low
High costs of hospitalization, treatment, and post-procedural care are major deterrents in seeking healthcare in developed nations like USA.  The patients that come to India from countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Iraq etc. have to make significant arrangements to fund their healthcare costs, and for travel and lodging requirements for themselves and their caretakers. As such, there needs to be a balance between the availability of the latest healthcare technology and its affordability. India fits this bar. The government’s recent decision to rationalize the trade margins of anti-cancer drugs is a welcome move. Similar rationalization of trade margins from the first point of sale should be introduced to replace sub-optimal measure like price caps which hinder the spirit of innovation in medical devices. Since India imports more than 70 percent of the medical devices, customs duty should be reduced for those devices that do not have import substitution for.
Assurance to the patient
There needs to be a formal feedback mechanism monitored by the government to track any unpleasant experiences of foreign tourists, followed by a proper redressal mechanism to address malpractices and improper consultations. This is required for foreign patients as evidence collection and follow-up with relevant authorities becomes harder because of limited time. Having a robust system would ensure quality assurance for the patient and will help promote the image of India as a country that stays true to the ethos of atithi devo bhava.

Skilling of healthcare workers
The healthcare professionals have to stay abreast of the latest technologies. Since medical devices are very different from drugs in terms of usage and applicability, healthcare professionals (HCPs) need to be constantly trained on how to use the latest medical devices. Medical Technology Association of India (MTaI) member companies train more than 2,00,000 HCPs annually to enable them to correctly perform the procedures using new medical devices. Foreign patients will be more confident if it becomes a norm knowing that Indian HCPs are constantly trained on the latest technology.

It will require the collective will of the government, hospitals, drugs and medical device makers in order to achieve the USD 9 billion goal of the Tourism Ministry. While the above-stated steps may not be the only ones to help medical tourism grow, it is important to find out and follow all the possible ways to promote medical tourism so that it can contribute to offsetting the forex imbalances and help push India from among the top three destinations for medical tourism to the No. 1 position globally.

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