The total number of medical tourism visitors to India in 2017 was 4.95 lakh, Minister of State for Tourism K.J. Alphons, said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha. This number had stood at around 2.34 lakh in 2015, and 4.27 lakh in 2016. The equation is First World treatment at Third World prices.
Medical tourism in India started when Western health care workers started providing short-term medical work in many countries around the world. Medical students constituted a significant proportion of those interested in medical tourism in India through various elective programs, and these electives were often the gateway to future careers in international health. Government of India has introduced a 'medical visa' for foreigners who come to India for medical treatment and are here for an extended period. The medical visa" would be admissible to all foreigners seeking medicare in recognised specialty hospitals or treatment centres.
New medical visa rules will give a boost to medical tourism in India. Now patients will have the facility to bring two attendants, spouse and blood relations. They will be allowed two entries in a year, which means patients can change attendants. This visa will enable international patients to have access to medical care in the recognised and specialised hospitals of the country. In addition to the basic documentation required of all visa applicants, those seeking a visa for medical treatment tour should submit at the time of the visa interview, a description by a reputable physician or medical facility, of the disease, defect or disability for which treatment is being sought. Medical records detailing past treatments received for the condition. Although only a few hospitals are making conscious efforts to increase the existing inflow of health tourists, nobody denies the huge potential medical tourism has.
When baby Noor Fatima, a two-and-a-half- year old Pakistani girl, successfully underwent an open heart surgery in India, she opened news vistas reminding the potential of medical toursim and affordable cost-effective treatment.
India offers world class medical facilities to medical
tourists in world class hospitals and the doctors are comparable with any of the doctors
in western countries. India also offers the most competitive prices.
'Medical tourism in India' is the buzzword now. The government as well as private players are keenly assessing the potential and means to tap the same. The boom in state-of-the-art hospitals and well-qualified doctors, have attracted the patient population from neighbouring countries, the Middle East and the West who are looking for quality affordable cost-effective treatment.
World-class hospitals and medical facilities have helped
medical tourism in India. They definitely have an advantage over others, as apart from the
cost factor, most foreign nationals are used to getting treated by Indian nationals
abroad. Indian medical professionals settled abroad are associated with high quality care.
Nearly seven per cent of patients at Apollo Hospitals today come from countries in the Middle East. They have now gone on to set up offices in various countries to channelise patients to their hospitals. With telemedicine, it has become easier for patients to keep in touch with them and facilitates their transfer to hospitals in India. Apollo Hospitals currently devotes nearly 10 per cent of its health care infrastructure for medical tourism purpose.
Indian hospitals have invested heavily in order to attract medical tourists to India. They have set up hospitals in major cities and tourism destinations with the intention of attracting non-residents from the world over. They also have put in place the latest medical infrastructure to attract tourists to India.
"Compared to countries like the UK or the US, minor treatments like those for dental problems or major procedures like bypass surgery or angioplasty come at a fraction of the cost in India, even though the quality of doctors and medical equipment is comparable to the best in the world," says K K Aggarwal, executive vice-chairman of the Heart Care Foundation of India.
No wonder corporate hospitals like Apollo and Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre are working towards capturing a larger share of the pie with their cost-effective treatment.
"Almost 10 per cent of our patients/medical tourists come from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and West Asia," Naresh Trehan, executive director of Escorts, said.
The Mohali-based Fortis Hospital has already entered into a mutual referrals arrangement with Partners Healthcare System, that has hospitals like Brigham Women's Hospital and Massachusetts Hospital, Boston, under its umbrella. "We will soon launch a defined programme for the two-way flow of patients," Harpal Singh, chairman of Fortis, said.
The Apollo Hospitals Group is also holding discussions with the National Health Scheme, UK, to bring patients/medical tourists from the UK to India, highlighting their affordable cost-effective treatment.
"The waiting period for surgeries such as knee replacement is too long in the UK. We are working on a plan for getting those patients/medical tourists to India," Yogi Mehrotra, managing director of Apollo Hospitals, said. The hospital is also working on attracting patients/medical tourists from African countries and is in talks with the authorities concerned.
The Indian Healthcare Federation, an association of the healthcare delivery sector that includes the Apollo Hospitals Group, Mumbai's Hinduja Hospital, Max Healthcare, the Fortis Heart Institute among others, has also decided to project India as a healthcare destination with its affordable cost-effective treatment.
Among private players, Apollo has been a forerunner in
medical tourism in India. It has been a choicest destination for patients/medical tourists
from Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The group has tied up with hospitals in
Mauritius, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Yemen besides running a hospital in Sri Lanka, and
managing a hospital in Dubai.
Now, to attract more people, the emphasis is on vacation plus treatment and special packages have been planned for this. On the anvil is another plan to make the medical tourists and their relatives stay in the hospital complex with all the luxuries a hotel provides. Dr Shakti Gupta, AIIMS, stresses on the need to export health care services. According to him, Indian doctors, medical services, and hospitals are at par with good hospitals in Europe and the US.
AIIMS is a destination for medical tourists from Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Mauritius, Malaya and Pakistan. Besides regular medical tourists from the Middle-East, an occasional patient/medical tourists from the US drops in for health care. Medical tourists from Pakistan, especially children with heart afflictions, have been regularly coming to AIIMS heart centre. According to Dr Gupta, AIIMS was made for the helath care of entire south-east Asia populace and since it is a government institute there are no plans to attract more foreigners.
The attractions for affordable cost-effective treatment at AIIMS include cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, cancer treatment and ophthalmic procedures.
Indian hospitals getting recognition from international insurance companies will bring in more patients/medical tourists from abroad, says Anil K Maini, head, marketing, health care and medical tourism business, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre. The centre is emerging fast as a favourite destination for patients/medical tourists from neighbouring countries, Africa and CIS. With BUPA recognition, patients/medical tourists from the UK are coming here for treatment.