Of the over 6 lakh-odd medical tourists that visit India today, over half or 55% hail from two regions Africa and West Asia. The market size of medical value travel would cross R62,000 crore by 2020 and R2 lakh crore by 2025 from R4,500 crore in 2010, according to Technopak, which forecasts a 30% annual growth for the industry for the next 15 years.
In the national capital region (NCR) alone, the three largest hospital chains, Apollo Hospitals, Fortis Healthcare and Max Healthcare attended to 15,500 foreign patients in 2010. Of this, a quarter or more of the tourists who visited Fortis and Max came from West Asia while Apollo derived one-fifth of the traffic from this region. Africa accounts for 32% of Maxs medical tourists, 15% of Fortis and a fifth of Apollos share of medical tourists. Neighbouring Saarc countries account for 40% of Fortis, 25% of Apollos and 18% of Maxs traffic of medical tourists. The United States, Europe and other countries accounts for only one fifth of the total patient pool for all the three hospital groups.
Acknowledging Asia as the biggest gainer of global medical value travel, Technopak analysts identify two large drivers that could spur the projected growth. The presence and expansion of multiple well-established corporate organisations (hospital groups), and India's unique position to embrace Ayurveda and alternative medicine as it adopts a more holistic approach towards healthcare delivery could attract more wellness tourists, different from those who come here for core surgeries mainly in the areas of cardiac or other general procedures.
A rate chart comparing costs of different procedures could make it clear as to why India could utilise its edge in weaning away a large share of tourists from other destinations. A coronary artery bypass graft that could cost $70,000-133,000 in the US and between $16,000 -22,000 in other medical tourism hotspots like Thailand and Singapore, costs about $7,000 in India, according to Indian Medical Value Travel Association. A bypass surgery with heart valve replacement that costs $75,000-140,000 in the US and between $22000-25000 in Thailand and Singapore is done in India at $9,500. Similarly, a hip or knee replacement that can set you back in the US by $30,000 to $55,000 and can cost between $9000 to $12,700 in Thailand and Singapore would only cost $7200 in India. Even cosmetic surgeries, such as a facelift, for which customers have to shell out anywhere between $10,000 to $16,000 in the US, $7500 in Singapore and $5000 in Thailand, costs just $4800 in India.
Even then compared to the Southeast Asian countries, India has not been a runaway success in medical tourism yet. Head of a corporate hospital explains that value is just one variable a medical tourist considers while firming up a decision. The entire infrastructure in these (Southeast Asian) economies is customised to give a pleasant experience to the medical tourist, from the point he lands till he leaves. They have also been marketed for very long as medical and wellness tourism destinations. That is not the case in India, where hospitals are operating as 'islands of excellence' and the supporting infrastructure around it is often poor, he said. Also India hopped into the race to lure in medical tourists very late and the segment is still picking up.