Sociology Index

Medical Tourism In India

Private Hospitals In India, Medical Toursim

Medical tourism in India started when Western health care workers started providing short-term medical work in many countries around the world. Medical tourism in India was in the form of consultancy, relief or aid work in volunteer health programs.

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.

The initial period of such a visa will be one year or for the period of treatment whichever is less. Unlike the tourist visa, this can be extended and the State Governments and FRROs have been given the powers to extend such a visa.

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.

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.

The equation is ‘First World treatment’ at “Third World prices”. A CII-McKinsey, postulating the opportunities in medical tourism, states that the medical tourism market in the country pegged a 30 per cent growth in 2000 and it has been growing at the rate of 15 per cent for the past five years.

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.

The Metro hospitals and Heart Institute, Noida, also manages to attract medical tourists from Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and a few from Maldives and the Gulf region.

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.

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. And it will not be long before its full potential is realised, provided we cultivate the service mind-set or attitude, put in place an accreditation system and project our capabilities overseas through multiple media.

Bone Marrow Transplant

Major hospitals in India have oncology units comprising surgical oncology, medical and radiation therapy as well as the crucial Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT). The BMT unit with high pressure hipa filters has helped achieve a very high success rate in the various types of transplantation.

Cord Blood Transplant and Mismatched Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplant have been performed successfully, a feat that is remarkable and significant, considering the fact that the treatment costs one-tenth of what it does in the west. Special surgeons are available for individual organs. Plastic surgeons of repute provide treatment for head and neck cancer, breast cancer and other malignancies. Facilities offered include tele-therapy which includes simulation work stations to ensure high precision and safety during treatment at the 18 MV linear accelerator or telecobalt machines, brachy therapy and 3-D planning systems. In orthopaedics, the Ilizarov technique is practised for the treatment of limb deformities, limb shortening and disfiguration.

Cosmetic Surgery

A new dimension of the medical field taking off in India is cosmetic surgery which utilises some of the latest techniques in corrective procedures. Some disfigurations corrected include hair restoration (hair implants, hair flaps, and scalp reductions), rhinoplasties (reshaping or recontouring of the nose), stalling of the aging process (face life, cosmetic eyelid surgery, brow lift, sub-metal lipectomy for double chin), demabrasions (sanding of the face,) otoplasty for protruding ears, chin and cheek enlargement, lip reductions, various types of breast surgery and reconstruction and liposuction.

Non-invasive surgical procedures like streotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy for brain tumours are practised successfully.

Medical Tourism Council Of Maharashtra Launched.

The Maharashtra government in collaboration with FICCI (Western Region Council) has launched the Medical Tourism Council of Maharashtra (MTCM). This council will operate as a nodal agency responsible for smooth operations in the medical-tourism sector besides promoting Maharashtra's affordable cost-effective treatment and health-care facilities and also the medical tourism attractions in India.