Charting new growth in India’s medical tourism market

June 08, 2016 6:48 PM

With India offering lowest cost and highest quality treatment, it has become a hub of medical tourism destination. Atandra Roy reports

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With India offering lowest cost and highest quality treatment, it has become a hub of medical tourism destination. Atandra Ray reports

Immortality has  always been man’s dream and goal. The way he scrambles for pills and healthcare, you know for sure he wants to survive.

However, the surge in the cost of medicines and hospitalisation has made man’s struggle to prolong his life more difficult and at a time when diseases are on the rise. Offering quality care with affordability has become a very important objective. India’s attractiveness as  leading  destination for medical tourism lies in its ability to offer both.

According to a report released in 2014 by the Commonwealth Fund, the US spent more per capita ($8,508) on healthcare than Norway ($5,669), which has the second most expensive system. Whereas, India is at around one-tenth of the price of comparable treatment in the US or UK. The Medical Tourism Market Report: 2015, found that India was “one of the lowest cost and highest quality of all medical tourism destinations, it offers wide variety of procedures at about one-tenth the cost of similar procedures in the US.”

South-East Asian countries have gained a reputation as the Silicon Valley of Medical Tourism. There is a lot of competition among the countries to offer their healthcare services as the best in the world.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, 2014 statistics, around 230,000 patients from all over the world came to India in 2013, with the majority coming from developing and underdeveloped economies.  2015 was the top year for Russians and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) coming to India seeking medical treatment. Normally every year they account for a 30 per cent share of the patients coming to India along with the Persian Gulf countries and various other countries of Africa.

Another healthcare report released by FICCI, in collaboration with consultancy firm KPMG, titled, ‘Healthcare: The Neglected GDP Driver’, reveals that the medical travel market in India is set to triple from $2.8 billion in 2014 to $10.6 billion in 2019, registering an increase of 30 per cent annually.

Ayurveda and Yoga

India’s strategy is to offer various services across different segments of healthcare medical tourism. For example, India is a country known as the birthplace of Ayurveda and Yoga. Ayurveda centres around treatment with medicinal plants and herbs, most of them unique to the sub – continent of India and found nowhere else.

While Ayurveda cannot help a person who’s just suffered a heart attack, it can help the very same person maintain a healthy diet and better standard of living post recovery from the attack.

About 600,000 foreign tourists, many from Europe, visit Kerala, a state with more than 30 million people, every year, and nearly 35 per cent are repeat visitors seeking Ayurveda treatments.

Yoga, an ancient art which helps to create harmony between the body, mind and spirit to enhance wellbeing, has also been luring a lot of medical tourists to India’s shores. Yoga and Ayurveda have emerged as popular forms of alternative health therapies.

According to data estimates (Association of Ayurvedic Physicians of India, https://aapiindia.org/), there are around 4,50,000 registered ayurveda practitioners in the country. Additionally, there are around 250 ayurvedic colleges/ institutes in India, more than 8,500 licensed ayurveda pharmacies, and approximately 7,000 manufacturers, reflective of the importance given to this form of alternative medicine in the country.

The OSHO Foundation

The OSHO Foundation was set up in Pune by Rajneesh, a spiritual guru, keeping in mind the suitable climate. The institute itself attracts over 200,000 visitors annually. Most of them are international visitors.

Positive aspects of medical tourism in India

India has a fairly large pool of skilled doctors and healthcare professionals trained from internationally reputed institutes. These doctors have a strong presence in advanced healthcare e.g. cardiovascular, organ transplants and have a high success rate in surgery. Private healthcare players like the Apollo Hospital Group, Fortis, Medanta Medicity, etc. offer world-class services to its patients.

Threats and challenges

Though India is growing as a destination for medical tourism, it faces stiff competition from countries like Thailand and Singapore. They also offer advanced healthcare at competitive costs. Another point in favour of these destinations are friendlier regulations, for e.g. special visa rules for patients travelling to these countries. Low investment in healthcare infrastructure has also impacted India’s growth as a medical tourism hub.

Mitigating the challenges

Timely measures can help in resolving the challenges which hinder the growth of medical tourism in the country. For instance, there have been complaints that the processing time for the M-Visa required by foreign nationals to come to India for medical emergency is very long. Easier regulations and faster processes are needed to give a boost to medical tourism.

The government should also invest more on hospital infrastructure and medical research in the country. This would lead to better health outcomes and improve the standard of care in the country.  The government should also introduce more industry-friendly policies and investments. The government too must step up efforts to increase awareness of its ancient healing therapies in various parts of the world. Simultaneously, India has to be promoted as a destination of repute for modern systems of medical care.

(Atandra Ray is an intern with Express Healthcare)

atandraray@gmail.com

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