Concerns about rising healthcare costs and availability of quality and cost-effective healthcare services are key factors driving medical tourism globally. The lack of advanced treatment options and substantial inequity in healthcare availability in various countries has also led people to seek treatment options in other countries. Amongst this, India has evolved as one of the most prominent destinations for medical tourism globally. The number of foreign tourists coming to India on medical visa more than doubled to reach 495,056 in 2017, against 234,000 in 2015. Pegging a growth rate of 18 to 20 percent, the medical tourism industry in India is expected to hit USD 9 billion. The success of the Indian medical tourism industry could be largely attributed to the following factors:
- Cost of care. Ranked among the top six medical value travel destinations of the world, India is one of the low cost and high-quality medical tourism destinations, delivering high-quality of care at cost efficiency of 30 to 70 percent compared to many countries within Asia/GCC and the USA/Europe;
- Excellent care in India. India has a vast pool of skilled and trained clinicians recognized internationally. The private hospitals in India are well equipped with modern technologies, an early adopter of robotics and are now moving towards digital healthcare. With 33 JCI accredited hospitals and invariably no waiting time for medical care, India holds capabilities of delivering immediate medical care to medical tourists. There are also umpteen numbers of specialized care hospitals which are NABH accredited in Tier-I cities; and
- Friendly government policies. Government has expanded the bandwidth of e-visas, making it easier to obtain visas for medical purpose. New airports planned under the UDAN initiatives are expected to promote medical tourism in Tier-II cities. The Skill India initiative is also expected to boost the soft and hard skills much needed for smooth coordination of the interlacing medical tourism segments.
Key takeaways and outlook
To achieve the milestones, there is a need to overcome existing challenges, realign the strategies, and scale up the concept of medical tourism in India. Going forward, creating a comprehensive healthcare umbrella with uniform and standardized healthcare offering would be instrumental to continue and materialize this robust growth. The adoption of cloud-based electronic patient health record, telehealth/telemedicine platforms with the capacity of remote video consultations and diagnostics review could boost remote care management, reduction of treatment time and serving the international patients. Leveraging IoMT, Artificial Intelligence, and Big Data analytics would enable hospitals to manage the cross border patients, developing individual, specific and customized treatment plans, real-time patient monitoring, and better treatment outcomes. The Big Data analytics would be crucial to generating country-specific marketing strategies for medical tourists, while simultaneously assisting in exploring new opportunities. By smart usage of technology in the traditional healthcare models, a robust digital healthcare ecosystem holds immense potential to position India as the world leader in medical tourism. The efficient use of technology would catalyze the country’s growth in medical tourism, in the times of digitized society.
Further, there is a need to create a unified and transparent channel to obtain standardized healthcare. While India scores high on the cost-effectiveness and on availability of appropriate facilities and services, it lags behind in terms of destination attractiveness and environment. Beyond the parlance of cost-effectiveness and quality of care, there are softer aspects w.r.t foreign tourists that need to be focused upon, for example, language facilitation and security. Coordinated approach and support of industry stakeholders to increase ease of travel, social friendliness, and quick and efficient tourist support helpdesk could heighten the interest of medical travelers from across the globe. A single window clearance system for emergent cases is the need of the hour to project India’s commitment to the fast-expanding borderless segment of global medical value seekers.