Medical Tourism in India – Boost for Economic Growth

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Tourism as an industry has enormous economic benefits. In the present day, tourism does not confine itself only to hotels, restaurants and sea beaches, but has touched rural areas (Rural tourism), health sector (Health Tourism) and environment (Eco-tourism) as well. Its importance as an instrument for economic development and employment generation is now recognized the world over. The existing Tourism Policy, therefore provides a framework for development of tourism, with the objective of reaping its socio-economic benefit people in rural areas by ensuring overall development of the countryside, society and the nation altogether. This has been further boosted by the New National Tourism Policy , which revolves around a framework – Government-led, private sector -driven which aims at making the tourist to India getting “physically invigorated, mentally rejuvenated, culturally enriched, spiritually elevated and feel India.”

According to the Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia, “Medical tourism is a term that has risen from the rapid growth of an industry where people from all over the world are traveling to other countries to obtain medical, dental and surgical care, while at the same time touring, vacationing and fully experiencing the attractions of the countries that they are visiting.” It can be broadly defined as travel undertaken for the purpose of availing cost effective healthcare that meets international standards of care and comfort.

Broadly, Medical Tourism is a new concept, where two important service industries are dovetailing to attract people who seek healthcare services located beyond the geographical territory of their country. It is an integrated and collaborative approach from both healthcare and tourism industries, where a patient seeks healthcare and recreation in totality. Complimentary tourism packages make the entire offer more attractive to people who are interested to travel for their healthcare.

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Asstt. Town and Country Planner, TCPO, Ministry of Urban Development, New Delhi.

Senior Lecturer (Architecture) Meerabai Polytechnic, Govt of NCT of Delhi.

A combination of many factors has led to the recent increase in popularity of medical tourism: exorbitant costs of healthcare in developed nations, ease and affordability of international travel, favorable currency exchange rates in the global economy, rapidly improving technology and standards of care in many countries of the world.  Medical tourists are generally residents of the developed nations who travel to the countries, which are typically the less developed.  Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry with countries like Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Peru, Hungary, India, Israel, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, South Africa, Thailand and the Philippines actively promoting it.

Health Tourism

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Medical tourism is a developing concept whereby people from all over the world  visit India for their medical and relaxation needs. The treatments for which they regularly visit India are heart surgery, knee transplant, cosmetic surgery and dental surgery. In India the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Tourism have jointly formed a Task Force with a view to promoting India as a Health Destination for persons across the globe so as to enable them to gainfully utilize the health care expertise and infrastructure available in the country. The new domestic and global campaigns focus on India as a destination for niche segments like Medical Tourism, Cruise Tourism, and Spiritual tourism. The aim is to expand the range of the tourism products in India, both for domestic and international market. For this, streamlining of immigration process for medical visitors is necessary. In this connection, the Government of India has introduced a new category of Medical Visa (M-Visa), which can be given for specific period to foreign tourists coming to India for medical treatment.

Medical Tourism in India

The National Health Policy 2002 envisages an overall increase in health spending to 6 percent of GDP by 2010, of which one-third would be committed to public health investment. The Policy aims at widening the extent and coverage of care. It also encircled a greater role for private sector in the urban primary care and tertiary care sectors with growth of private health insurance.

International tourists are choosing India as their medical treatment destination because it has a rich cultural heritage and innumerable tourist destinations. In recent years, India is being seen as an important player in the globally growing “Medical tourism”, which is projected as a new segment in travel and healthcare business. This has put India on the international map as a haven for those seeking quality and affordable healthcare. In 2004, India treated and cared for 1.8 lakh patients, which approximately grew by 25-30 percent in 2005 as Indian corporate hospitals are at par, if not better than the best hospitals in Thailand, Singapore, etc. According to CII (Confederation of Indian Industries), India has the potential to promote medical tourism by attracting one million tourists per annum, as it offers holistic medical services with meditation, ayurveda, allopathy and other systems of medicine.

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India is the most touted healthcare destination for countries like South-East Asia, Middle East, Africa, Mauritius, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Yemen with 12 percent patient inflow from developing countries and the most sought after superspecialties are cardiology, neuro-surgery, orthopedics, joint replacement, gastroenterology, ophthalmology, transplants, urology, dentistry and plastic surgery.

“First World Treatment at Third World Costs”

A combination of three key factors – quality, availability and cost have been key factors in fuelling the phenomenal growth witnessed in the Indian medical tourism industry. 60% of doctors in India’s leading Indian hospitals have international qualifications, thus increasing the acceptance and comfort levels among international patients. An English speaking populace, exotic tourist locations and alternative medicinal cures are some factors that are largely responsible for India having edge over other neighboring countries. On the demand side, prohibitive medical costs and lengthy waiting time are the prime factors, which generally encourage people to seek treatment outside their home countries.

Quality

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Large pool of doctors, nurses & paramedics

Strength: Over 650,000 doctors; – Highly skilled experts, and Comfort Level NRI doctors

Usage of English Indian Nurses increasingly getting international exposure.

Value Proposition

  • Quality medical services at 1/10th costs:
  • Complicated surgical procedures possible at 1/10th the cost
  • Increase in use of Computerized Hospital Information Systems
  • Software technologists facilitating tech revolution in healthcare
  • State-of-the-art medical establishments of great repute

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Price advantage is a major selling point. The slogan, thus is, “First World treatment’ at Third World Prices”. The cost differential across the board is huge: only a tenth and sometimes even a sixteenth of the cost in the West. Open-heart surgery could cost up to $70,000 in Britain and up to id=”mce_marker”50,000 in the US; in India’s best hospitals, it could cost between $3,000 and $ 10,000. Knee surgery (on both knees) costs Rs.3,50,000 ($7,700) in India; in Britain this costs Rs.10,00,000 (id=”mce_marker”6,950), more than twice as much. Dental, eye and cosmetic surgeries in Western countries cost three to four times as much as in India (prices are based on 2004-05 year).

Thus healthcare industry has shown considerable growth in recent years in India. The emergence of top-notch corporate hospitals and continuous efforts for improvement of quality of care has placed Indian private healthcare in an envious position on the global map. High ratio of foreign qualified experienced medical practitioners/specialists, well trained nursing and medical staff have greater confidence levels amongst the people who are seeking medical care from Indian hospitals.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Mckinsey Report mention that the medical tourism market has been growing at the rate of 15 percent over the past five years and by 2012, globally, medical tourism is said to be US$ 40 billion industry, and analysis available projects that people from the Afro-Asian countries spend as much as US$ 20 billion every year on healthcare services outside their countries.

Market of Medical Tourism

Indian Healthcare Delivery market is estimated at US id=”mce_marker”8.7 billion. Nearly 65 percent of the healthcare services market has been captured by the private sector. Of the 5,2% of the healthcare expenditure, 4% is incurred by private hospitals in India.

I. The industry is growing at about 13 percent annually and is expected to grow at 15 percent over the next four to five years.

II. India’s medical tourism sector is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 30%, making it a Rs. 9,500-crore industry by 2015.  Estimates of the value of medical tourism to India go as high as $2 billion a year by 2012.  As medical treatment costs in the developed world balloon out of proportion, with the United States leading the way, more and more Westerners are finding the prospect of international travel for medical care increasingly appealing.  An estimated 150,000 of these travel to India for low-priced healthcare procedures every year.

III. India ranks second in the world in the medical tourism after Thailand. In 2007, Indian hospitals had treated 4.5 lakh foreign patients compared to Thailand’s 12 lakh.

IV. Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) study forecasts medical tourism could become a US$ 2 billion industry by 2012 (from US$ 350 million in 2006). Private healthcare is expected to account for 75 percent of this spending.

V. Voluntary health insurance market is estimated at Rs 4 billion ($86.3 million) currently but is growing fast.
Scenario of Health Expenditure & Infrastructure in India.

India’s expenditure on health, in terms of percentage of GDP, is amongst the highest for developing countries. In 2001, it was estimated at 5.1 percent, that is, approximately US $ 22.40 billion. Comparatively, per capita healthcare expenditure is relatively modest at an estimated US $ 24 in 2001. This can be attributed to the current priority to develop extensive basic health infrastructure, medical education and an extensive public hospital system.
The Medicare infrastructure in India includes over 500,000 doctors, 15,000 hospitals and 875,000 beds. In addition, semi-urban and rural regions have over 23,000 primary health centers and 132,000 sub-centers. Despite an extensive public healthcare infrastructure, the private sector now dominates the market.

According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the $ 17 billion dollar healthcare industry, comprises health services, health care equipment and pharmaceuticals and is poised to grow 13 percent annually for the next six years, boosted by medical tourism, which industry watchers say is growing at 30 percent annually. India’s medical tourism sector is expected to grow at an annual rate of 30 percent to become a Rs 9,500-crore industry by 2015.

As per the estimates of Assocham, India’s medical tourism sector is expected to grow at an annual rate of 30 percent to become a Rs 9,500-crore industry by 2015 as foreign arrivals will increase to avail treatment at lower costs.

With global revenues of an estimated $ 2.8 billion, the healthcare industry is one of the world’s largest industry. Indian healthcare industry, according to the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority has the potential to show the same exponential growth that the software and pharmaceutical industries have shown in the past decade. Only 10 percent of the market potential has been tapped till date.  Private hospitals and enterprises have driven the spurt  in medical tourism.

Future Strategies & Recommendations

I. It is essential to establish healthcare brands synonymous with safety, trust and excellence. There is a need to undertake an international marketing campaign targeted at select countries, besides establishing one-stop in key markets to facilitate the inflow of foreign patients. The medical tourism can be also be improved by creating awareness among the global community about the facilities rendered by Indian healthcare institutions.

II. Healthcare services can be positioned along the two dimensions depending on their core proposition – Holistic healthcare in Kerala through alternative (ayurvedic) techniques and with a wider tourism focus as opposed to the mainstream medical treatment provided by private hospitals like Apollo, Escorts etc. Thus they can be positioned separately and communicated to different target audiences.

III. The development of infrastructure at international levels will not only benefit medical service sector but also help others access Indian medical services. The increase of air connectivity to major cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata and also creation of health support infrastructure will provide an impetus for medical tourism.

IV. Complimentary tourism packages to people who are interested to travel to India for their healthcare needs to be started by different stakeholder”s cooperation. In this case, India can replicate the Thailand model, where success stories in taping the health tourism market is due to aggressive international marketing in conjunction with tourism authority. It has also integrated with traditional medicine and service integration with tourism. Thus India can also capitalize on its inherent strengths to become a world player in medical tourism.

V. Accreditation of Indian hospitals is quite essential for medical tourism.

VI. In order to boost the quality of infrastructure, special incentives need to be provided to the Medical Equipment Sector.

VI. The states also have to significantly increase their healthcare budgets.

VII. Since the services of the specialized doctors are very high, so   few people avail their services. Therefore, it is imperative to rope in insurance companies in this sector such as “Yashiswini” in Karnataka, which bought together, the insurance people and the healthcare segment, under one umbrella. Over 50,000 farmers in the Dakshina Kanada district have been covered under this scheme since its launch on November 14, 2002. It was huge success in Karnataka and should be followed in rest of India since there is a vast untapped insurable population. Such schemes will increase the insurance penetration and thus the people in the lower strata will be able to get better healthcare services in India.

By

Abha Agarwal

Email: abhaagarwal123-at-rediffmail.com

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