Care for cure

The Indian medical tourism market is in the pink of health—thanks to a rise in international patients who come for treatment to the country to cut down costs and to avail of accredited facilities

NOOMI DIMKA, a 37-year-old marketing executive from Nigeria, broke a tooth and was suggested a dental implant in her native country. The high cost of treatment, however, put her off. “While surfing the Internet, I came across an Indian medical tourism platform, which was providing me the same service, but at a much lower cost (by up to 30%) and with the assurance of quality. So I followed the contact details and got introduced to its founders. Thanks to them, my treatment was a breeze,” she says.

Dimka stayed in the country for about 20 days in the month of November in 2014, during which time the medical tourism venture not only took care of her hospital consultation and medical treatment, but also things like airport transfers and hotel bookings.

Egypt-based Saed Saber also has a similar experience to share. “My knee pain made me immobile. I couldn’t walk, sit or do any chores. I couldn’t even sleep peacefully. I consulted a few doctors and was told to get a knee replacement surgery. Back in Egypt, the treatment costs were so steep that I was worried that I’d have to stay with the pain all my life, but thanks to India, I got the best doctors here with minimal cost of treatment,” says the 54-year-old businessman, who undertook the journey to India in October last year.

Dimka and Saber are among the increasing number of international patients who are making a beeline for Indian shores to avail of treatments and accredited facilities. “There are many reasons why India is big on medical tourism. A good success rate of treatment as compared to under-developed countries is one. Affordable cost of surgeries and absence of queues or waiting time (as is often the case with developed nations) are other areas where India scores. Indian doctors have an unparalleled reputation for being skilled and reliable, which helps their case as well,” says Anurav Rane, co-founder and CEO of PlanMyMedicalTrip, a Pune-based medical tourism start-up. PlanMyMedicalTrip has partnerships with 1,500 doctors and hospitals across India and Turkey, and has successfully facilitated the treatment for close to 3,000 patients since it started operations in 2007, including flight tickets, hotels, etc.

As per a recent white paper by the Confederation of Indian Industry and business advisory company Grant Thornton, the country’s medical tourism market is expected to more than double in size from $3 billion at present to around $8 billion by 2020. Cost is a major driver for nearly 80% of medical tourists and has—along with the availability of accredited facilities—led to the emergence of several global medical tourism corridors such as Singapore, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico and Costa Rica. Among these corridors, India has the second-largest number of accredited facilities after Thailand, the report notes.

As per Vrinda Mathur, partner, Grant Thornton India, the healthcare industry and its attractiveness have been two of the most talked about news points in the country, both in terms of growth, as well as an avenue for investment. “Focused efforts by private operators to improve the infrastructure, maintaining positive clinical outcomes and a parallel focus on quality and accreditation, have been some of the primary drivers of the increased popularity of the sector in the past few years. Shortage of beds and a large ‘under-served’ population have led to a never-ending demand for quality healthcare in the country—both from patients in India, as well as outside,” she adds.

But what is it that makes the country so unique and highly sought-after? As per Mathur, the price points in India, for both complicated and commonplace surgeries, are almost 70-85% cheaper than those in the US—in comparison, other Asian countries like Singapore are lower by 30-40% and Thailand by as much as 60%. “This, coupled with world-class infrastructure (including several facilities accredited by the Joint Commission International, a US-based organisation that accredits hospitals and academic medical centres, and is considered the gold standard in global healthcare) and abundant skilled talent availability, has made India a much sought-after destination for price-sensitive and quality-conscious medical travellers,” Mathur explains.

Healing touch

New Delhi-based Max Healthcare, which receives patients from over 80 countries, sees a large number of them coming from the Middle-East, eastern and western Africa, central Asia and the Saarc countries. “The top five countries from where Max Healthcare gets patients are Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and Kenya,” says Abdul Wajid, director, sales and marketing, Max Healthcare. Gurgaon-headquartered super-speciality hospital chain Fortis Healthcare, too, witnesses a large number of medical tourists from Africa, the Middle-East, some countries in the Asia-Pacific region and parts of eastern Europe. “Patients come here for bypass surgeries, valve-replacement surgeries, knee replacements, hip replacements and metabolic surgeries, among others,” offers Sunil Kapur, head, sales, Fortis Healthcare, adding, “We have the best treatment solutions available across all major specialities, with centres of excellence in cardiology, oncology, neurology, orthopaedics, nephrology and gastrointestinal transplantation. These are a few areas that are in demand for international standards of treatment solutions.”

A bypass surgery in India may cost anywhere between $5,000-$7,000. In the US, it would be anywhere between $80,000-$120,000. “Thailand, Singapore and Turkey, which are competing medical travel destinations, would also be at least five to six times more expensive than India,” explains Wajid of Max Healthcare, who is expecting the total number of international patients this financial year at the hospital chain to cross the 10,000 mark. “International patient revenue comprises approximately 10% of the total revenue of the company,” he adds.

Max Healthcare even opened three ‘Max Information Centres’ last year in Kenya, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. “The information centres help channelise patients to hospitals and provide a local connect to patients abroad,” explains Wajid.

As per Dr Asif Gani, a healthcare professional of Indian origin who is now the director of operations at Lifeline Hospital in Salalah, Oman, a sizeable number of patients have also started travelling to India for alternative medicine therapies, infertility and cosmetic surgeries, while earlier, it was typically restricted to cases of cardiac surgery, joints (hip and knee), neurosurgery and cancer. “India is unique, as it’s both economical and offers good hospitals with a superb skill-set of doctors and nurses, besides the latest technology comparable to the West. Apart from this, there is minimum or no waiting time for several procedures such as surgery,” he adds.

What attracts these foreign medical tourists is not just the affordability of treatment, but the entire spectrum of services offered alongwith, including visa assistance, hotel stay, sightseeing, transportation, treatment costs and post-treatment care, among others. “We offer customised services for international patients such as visa assistance, interpreter services, concierge, airport reception and dedicated service managers,” says Kapur of Fortis.

At Max, complimentary services to international patients include access to foreign TV channels, Wi-Fi services in the hospital and even foreign cuisines, adds Wajid.

The right dose

In December, the sector got a new boost when the Union government announced that it will set up a medical intelligence tourism board to facilitate in-bound tourism and to generate new ideas for attracting more travellers, including medical tourists. As per Mahesh Sharma, minister of state (independent charge) for tourism and culture, the first meeting of the board would take place soon. He also said India could emerge as an important medical hub since some of the critical surgeries like knee replacement, dental surgery, etc, could be undertaken at one-sixth or one-eighth the cost prevalent in developed countries.

“The government has taken certain initiatives to launch centralised campaigns, websites and tie-ups with neighbouring countries to place India on the global medical tourism map. Both the government, as well as private operators, have to address the inclusive need for a better healthcare landscape for the domestic population, while simultaneously promoting foreign medical tourist footfall. Achieving a fine balance between the two is the need of the hour,” says Mathur of Grant Thornton India.

Going forward, Kapur of Fortis lists out a few suggestions. “India needs to have a comprehensive, uniform and simplified checklist for foreign medical travellers, along with all relevant information for medical visas, which should be displayed on Indian embassy websites across the globe. Streamlining necessities available to tourists will greatly impact the numbers,” he says.

The government should provide multiple-entry medical visas to enable follow-up treatment, Kapur adds. “E-visas can go a long way in impacting tourists coming to India for medical reasons. Increase in support structures like post-operative care in small recuperative homes, especially made available by the government, will also impact medical tourism,” he explains.

As per Rane of PlanMyMedicalTrip, the government has been proactively supporting the cause of medical tourism in India. “It has also been helping corporates with financial aid to expand their reach across the globe. The rising number of foreign tourist arrivals in the country over the past one year is proof that we are on the right path,” he adds.

Special treatment

India’s medical tourism market size is expected to reach $8 billion by 2020 from $3 billion at present

*Cost is a major driver for 80% medical tourists

*Price points in India are 70-85% cheaper than the US—other Asian countries like Singapore are lower
by 30-40% and Thailand by 60%

*Among the many global medical tourism corridors, India has the second-largest number of accredited facilities

*A 2015 Confederation of Indian Industry and Grant Thornton report

Anurav Rane, co-founder & CEO, PlanMyMedicalTrip, a medical tourism start-up

There are many reasons why India is big on medical tourism. A good success rate of treatment as compared to under-developed countries is one. Indian doctors have an unparalleled reputation for being skilled and reliable, which helps their case as well

Vrinda Mathur, partner, Grant Thornton India, a business advisory firm

Focused efforts by private operators to improve the infrastructure, maintaining positive clinical outcomes and a parallel focus on quality and accreditation, have been some of the primary drivers of the increased popularity of the sector in the past few years

Abdul Wajid, director, sales and marketing, Max Healthcare

The top five countries from where Max Healthcare gets patients are Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and Kenya. International patient revenue comprises approximately 10% of the total revenue of the company

Sunil Kapur, head, sales, Fortis Healthcare

India needs to have a comprehensive, uniform and simplified checklist for foreign medical travellers. Streamlining necessities available to tourists will greatly impact the numbers. E-visas can go a long way in impacting tourists coming to India for medical reasons

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