Gandharv Roy
Assistant Vice President-Strategy (Finance & Operations),
Medica Superspecialty Hospital

Medical Tourism To Be A USD 9 Billion Goldmine Biz By 2020

There is no gainsaying that Indians have established themselves the world over as top-notch professionals in the fields of law, business, and even medicine. This is a fact well recognized in both Britain as well in the US, to the point that Indian medical graduates are often sought after for prestigious residencies and fellowships in these countries. One of the largest contributing factors to this comfort and trust with our physicians stems from the fact that our medical education is considered one of the most competitive, challenging and rigorous course in the world.

There is a slew of positive factors that have taken us to the level we are today in the eyes of foreign nationals when it comes to seeking medical care in our facilities. These factors increase the willingness of an international patient to obtain medical care in a country away from his home country. The enabling factors for this include cheaper airfare, favorable foreign exchange rates, availability of the latest technologies in our facilities, and plenty of technical manpower among others. All these have helped India gradually become a premier healthcare destination.

India was a known hub of Ayurveda which manifested itself from Atharvaveda that mentions several diseases and their respective treatment. Now when the world has moved towards a much advanced medical care system, the medical value travel has found a real impetus in India and it scores high on the patient’s satisfaction index as well, providing a more holistic approach to healthcare; allopathic or otherwise. 

Over the years, the quality of medical care here has massively improved due to highly skilled doctors and superlative care provided by trained nurses. The number of foreign patients has grown exponentially and is poised to grow by 200 percent by 2020, helping create an industry worth USD 9 billion in annual revenues, according to the Union Tourism Ministry.

An additional factor that makes India ticks is the lower cost of treatment in the country, which is significantly lower than the prevailing rates in the US, EU, and even most South Asian countries. Over the past three decades, we have consistently grown market share in the global medical tourism market due to these reasons.

A flatter world. With the advent and the massive penetration of the Internet, patients across the world today have easy access to information about their medical procedures and costs not only in their own countries but across the world. Patients are able to transparently view the cost of procedures giving them a choice of exploring options abroad by just surfing on their mobile phones. Conversely, medical tourism providers are able to reach out to these patients with their offerings, build a relationship through targeted marketing, and develop the trust required to have patients entrust them with their well-being.

Skilled doctors and medical personnel. Besides world-class hospitals, we also have the largest pool of highly skilled doctors and medical personnel in the world. Our pool of allopathic doctors and paramedics number 1.2 million today, which is the largest. Apart from this, there are 0.17 million dental surgeons and 2 million nurses. To add to these humungous numbers, there are about 0.8 million formally trained Ayurveda professionals. However, numbers alone cannot be the factor that ranks us in the higher global pedestal; but it is the unassailable advantage of receiving premium healthcare at an affordable price.

Building trust. Over the past three decades, India has been able to establish itself as one of the prime players in the medical tourism space for one simple reason, trust. With the return of American and British trained physicians to our shores, the easy import of advanced medical technologies, practices, and processes from overseas such as Germany and the US, have made our health and safety quality, world-class. This, compared with the sheer volume of cases performed in the country, owing partly to the disease profile, and partly to the size of the population, our physicians have become efficient and effective surgeons especially in the field of cardiac surgery, interventional cardiology, and gastrointestinal surgery. Certain hospitals have also got international accreditation which serves as a sign of quality thereby giving patients the confidence that they will be served at the same level of care that they would receive back home.

No language barriers. We also have the highest percentage of doctors and nurses who speak English, making the experience of the patient more palatable. Apart from this, most of the super specialty hospitals have appointed other language experts and translators to ensure that there is no hiccup when it comes to communication.

Cost-effectiveness. Due to major macroeconomic factors such as a large and liquid labor market, a weaker currency, a thriving generic manufacturing industry and a lower cost structure, India and other developing countries are able to offer superior healthcare for a fraction of the cost while maintaining international standards and outcomes.

The inflow of overseas patients. It’s not just patients from neighboring counties like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Nepal who frequent to our hospitals for cheap and effective treatment. Today medical tourists from Oman, the Maldives, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Yemen are as frequent as those from our neighborhood. Bangladesh and Afghanistan constitute about (34%), Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (30%), the Middle East (10%), Africa (10%), and Britain and the US (16%), respectively. Cities like New Delhi and NCR, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai are some of the top destinations that receive the highest number of medical tourists each year.

Minimum waiting period. India boasts of very minimal waiting time when it comes to patient care, compared to Western European or some of the Asian countries, be it for heart surgery, kidney care, cancer treatment, neuro-spinal procedure, knee/hip/joint replacements, dental, cosmetic surgeries or weight loss surgery. In the managed care system, the patients sometimes can›t choose their doctors in other countries and that is the reason they choose to combine their pleasure with medical treatment.

Innovation galore. Some of our well-known healthcare institutions have invested comprehensively toward innovation in cutting- edge technology, diagnostics and medical procedures. Today, our healthcare system is known for its high success rate in critical treatment and surgeries. Cancer treatment, heart surgeries, neurosurgeries, and orthopedics have made significant strides enabling faster post-operative recovery, all due to superior knowledge and expertise. Our medical practitioners are challenging themselves every moment to ensure effective treatment for all their patients. As a result many of them today have international accreditation, further improving their credibility and safety parameters.

The offering itself. Tourism is intrinsically associated with an improvement in health, well-being, and convalescence. Additionally, it provides one with the opportunity to explore new lands and gain new perspectives. Medical tourism combines the financial advantages of medical care as well as with the pleasure of tourism. It is not uncommon for providers to create packages that combine a medical procedure with an extended vacation as a means of convalescence as well as the chance to rest, relax, and the chance to immerse oneself in a new culture. India provides the basics of successful remedy and healthcare solution not just at an affordable price but also has the best-in-class treatment facilities which can be compared
with the best in the world. Doubling up is the accreditation system which matches the global healthcare standards.

Medical tourist visa. The government has also introduced a medical tourist visa program, further making it easier for foreign patients and their kin to plan the treatment here.

These factors have collectively helped us grow to one of the world’s preferred destinations for medical tourism, more specifically for elective and semi-elective procedures such as joint replacements, cardiac procedures and more recently organ transplantation. With New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and Kolkata serving as hubs to Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia respectively, all our key cities are poised to establish themselves as regional heavyweights when it comes to medical care.

Though we excel in the state-of-the-art medical facilities, reputed healthcare professionals, quality nursing facilities and traditional healthcare therapies, going forward, if we want to ensure more inflow of foreign monies via medical tourism and eyeing a business of USD 9 billion by 2020, we must further improve the quality of care we offer, and work on setting up of electronic medical records and adopt systems and processes that are being practiced in other countries so that India becomes a prime destination for medical tourism in the years to come.

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