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MEDICAL TOURISM: LIMITING ASPIRATIONS
An Opportunity that Grabbed us
Benefits of Economy and a Quicker Passage to The Operating table have Made India one of The Front Runners in Medical Tourism. But Critical Failings, from The Government as well as The Private Sector, mean that India is Failing to Adequately tap The Opportunity
Issue Date - 09/06/2011
 
Since time immemorial, the mystical land of India has been enchanting foreigners from all over the world. Healing of the body, mind & spirit has been one of the country’s most compelling value propositions, one which even a young Steve Jobs couldn’t resist, many years ago. And as the costs of healthcare have soared, particularly in developing countries, India’s hospitals and physicians have made all possible efforts to become a destination for tourists who seek not just therapeutic solutions but a range of other treatments and sight seeing tours; adding to the “wellness” factor. Almost a decade has passed since medical tourism was originally envisioned as a major phenomenon in India.

A 2009 report by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) & McKinsey forecasts that medical tourism will generate $2.4 billion between 2009–2012 for India by attracting 1.1 million health tourists, up from 150,000 in 2002. India’s share in the global tourism industry is expected to rise to around 3% by 2013 (RNCOS report) with revenues of around $3 billion and a CAGR of 26% during 2011–2013.

There are over 3,371 hospitals and around 754,985 registered practitioners catering to the needs of traditional Indian healthcare. Indian hotels are also entering the wellness services market by collaborating with professional organisations in a range of wellness fields. According to the Ministry Of Tourism, as against an ordinary vacationer’s per-capita spend of $3,000 per visitor, the average medical tourist in India shells out more than $7,000 per visit. Traditionally patients from neighbouring SAARC countries and Middle East frequented hospitals in India. But patients from Africa and even Europe and US have started coming only in the last five years. Pricing is the clear advantage. The Planning Commission points out that India is far economical compared to peer countries. For example, heart bypass surgery costs $6,000 in India, $7,894 in Thailand, $10,417 in Singapore, $19,700 in Britain and $23,938 in the US.

India spends roughly 6% of GDP on healthcare and is expected to reach 8% by 2012. Private sector expenditure in healthcare is expected to reach $45 billion by 2012. But in comparison with America’s 15.3%, Switzerland’s 11.3% or France’s 11.1%, the country still falters when it comes to quality as well as quantity of medical facilities. B&E does a reality check to analyse whether the country has really lived up to the hype.

The flip side has majorly been the role of the government; or may we say, the lack of it. Although infrastructure spending for health care has intensified, only the private sector has flourished. Top Indian corporate hospitals like Apollo, Fortis, Wockhardt, Max and Manipal have stepped in to provide quality healthcare and technology. Nearly 75% of health care services and investments in India are provided by the private sector.

 
There is a lot of business that India is missing out on due to a variety of issues. The primary issue comes in terms of perceptions about India being a developing country with poor infrastructure. Heavy investment in marketing is needed to change this perception. The government has promised to invest around $6.5 billion in medical tourism infrastructure over the next two years. Organisations like IMTA keep pointing out that competition in Singapore, Malaysia and Korea is working quite aggressively to promote their countries. Also the visa regime needs to be liberalised. Today most visitors to Thailand and Singapore get their visa on arrival for medical treatment. Getting an Indian visa from our overseas consulates is the biggest hassle for a potential patient. The Medical Visa (M Visa & MX Visa) scheme introduced by the government in 2005 has been a non-starter as it has many flaws and most overseas patients still come to India on a tourist visa. Long queues after arrival at Indian airports for immigration also put off patients who are already in a weak state of health. Anurag Dubey, Industry Manager, Healthcare Delivery and Life Sciences IT, South Asia and Middle East, Frost & Sullivan, comments, “The synergy between key stakeholders – government, healthcare providers and the company organising the travel and initial interaction with the hospital is missing so far in India.”

Moreover, the profit motive inherent in privatisation has its disadvantages. A number of Indian hospitals have jumped on to the bandwagon without being up for it in terms of global standards. Off late healthcare, providers in India have understood the value of quality accreditations and a few of them even have international accreditations to attract more of foreign patients, but still the adoption is slow. Quacks in the system destroy credibility, and so does sub standard medical knowledge of practitioners in some of the mid-tier hospitals. Many more hospitals, which have good facilities and consultants, are still in the process of getting quality accreditations/standards in place. India has a wealth of alternative medicine practices, which could also be leveraged to treat chronic ailments. However, alternative medicinal practices are not promoted according to their potential, primarily due to lack of standardisation in pricing & quality. Kerala has been a rare exception in the manner in which it has promoted its treatments. Other states must follow its example. Otherwise, medical tourism could be another opportunity, which came to India by destiny, but was largely missed by design.

          

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