Medical Tourism – Unlocking the potential for India

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Business Mantra : Faridabad

Introduction:

Medical tourism is defined a travel to another country for the purpose of medical or surgical treatment. While it is combined with the word tourism, It may or may not be combined with leisure, pleasure and general tourist activities. At the surface, it may seem as nothing more than a new aspect of tourism like adventure tourism, but that would be wrong to assume. Medical tourism is nothing but a simple result of global competition in the health care industry. In the present era, patients and their Health Monitors and Insurers would like to find the best value for money globally and do not confine their choices to their home countries.

This is where India proves to have a definite competitive advantage over First world countries. A variety of studies have shown that the cost of the complete health care package including travel and accomodation to India costs at about 30-40% of the same medical treatment in the First World countries. To further bolster India’s claim to being a global health center, India boasts of one of the largest healthcare workforce with more than 50,000 doctors and nurses being produced every year.

India has taken note of its advantages and as a result the medical tourism revenue in India has grown from $334 million in 2004 to an expected value of $2 billion this year. While that is impressive, we must remember that it is just about 2% of the global medical tourism market as estimated by McKinsey in a report in 2012. This means only one thing, that as an area of growth the sky is the limit for medical tourim in India to grow.

According to Forbes India magazine October 2014 issue Medical Tourism will be the –Next Crown Jewel of India- with its great positive impact on economy and Health care.

Global Competitors:

While any industry is affected by a multitude of factors, the main dimensions on which countries compete in the Global health sector are :

i) Medical/Surgical procedure cost and quality;
ii) Travel cost and general ease of travel;
iii) Hotel accomodation during recuperation;

Note that all of these factors must primarily be compared to the home country of the medical tourist, which more often than not is in the developed western world. Medical tourism to the developed world from the developing world does exist e.g. for cutting edge treatment for rare diseases, it is expected to reduce in the future as the health infrastructure of the developing countries improves. As one must be aware of the global competition to move forward in any area, we shall now briefly go over the global competition of India in the global health care industry and look into things we can learn from each of them:

1) Thailand:

A destination in a similar geographical region as compared to India with respect to the developed world, Thailand, is the other popular destination for medical tourism in asia. Obviously in terms of travel both countries are on similar terms and India provides similar quality of medical services at a lower price. The only thing that can give Thailand a competitive advantage over India is its highly developed hotel industry.

Thai hotels are cheaper and have better infrastructure compared to Indian hotels due to a highly competitive hotel industry. Furthermore, the perception of non-cleanliness of India in a lot of western nations can scare away medical tourists as they might think that they might catch secondary infections during recuperation in India.

This showcases the importance of supporting infrastructure and requirement of a positive ecosystem for the medical tourism industry to grow. Only having the best doctors at lower prices will not do.

2) Central/South American countries:

The major advantage for this group of countries is geographical closeness to the United States, and India, of course, cannot compete there. But, the main feature to learn about these countries is the fact that most of them have advertized about and cater to singular specialities. Costa Rica is best known for quality dental surgeries, Columbia is known for quality cosmetic surgery, Brazil is known for cut-rate plastic surgery and Argentina for fertility treatment.

A number of Indian private players have also picked up on the importance of advertizing specializations and have gained global reputation in fields of cardiac and opthamological surgeries. The study of our American competitors provides us a list of areas in which we can expand into.

Another lesson that we have to learn from out American competitors is the importance of professionalism and high-tech equipments absence of which is considered one of the main reasons the Dental care tourism shifted from Mexico to Costa Rica.

Patients and their family members from all over the world are coming to India mainly for following medical treatments:-

Heart Bypass
Heart Valve replacement
Angioplasty
Hip Replacement
Hysterctomy
Knee Replacement
Spinal Fusion

But as we Indians know, the same way foreigners know that the Prevention is Better Than Cure, So a new wing of medical tourism has emerged named WELLNESS Tourism. With Global acceptability of Yoga and Ayurveda, no other country in the world is a better destination for Wellness Tourism.

Wellness Tourism:

Many studies conflate the terms medical tourism and wellness tourism, but there is a slight but important difference between these two terms even though both are part of global health industry. While medical tourism is related to treatment of some illness or some surgical process, wellness tourism is related to general well-being. As a simple example, coming to India for heart surgery is medical tourism while coming to India to relax, be close to nature and enjoy an Ayurvedic spa is wellness tourism.

Due to already highly recognized global brands like Ayurveda and Yoga, India is well placed to be the country at the forefront of wellness tourism. Some states like Kerala and Goa with already good tourist influx due to their natural climate have also started promoting wellness tourism.

Conclusion and Suggestions:

About a decade back, the healthcare sector of India had just started receiving global attention and the simple reality that we had top quality medical personnel at lower prices has helped medical tourism become a $2 billion industry in India. There have been industry and government initiatives towards promotion of this industry but they have been in patches. Knowing how large the global market is and how much foreign exchange this industry can earn for India, we believe that a more coherent and convincing effort is required at the Central government level instead of in patches with each state having its own policies which might be incoherent.

The major areas for improvement that we would like to suggest are the following:

1) Cleanliness of our cities as well as its perception in foreign countries needs to improve. As we have claimed that cleanliness perception is important if someone wants to spend a period after surgery in India. The “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” launched by the central government needs to have this concern also added to its goals.

2) The supporting infrastructure for the medical tourism industry needs to develop to international standards with reasonable costs. The hotel industry competitiveness should be encouraged for that to happen.

3) We need to have a proper advertisement campaign to get a footing and eventually dominate other areas of medical tourism like dental surgery, cosmetic surgery etc.

4) Hospitals in India should tie up with major Mediclaim insurance companies across the globe. It will give a terrific boost to the sector.

5) Development of specialised tour operators for medical and wellness tourism and specialised portals for medical and wellness tourism should be encouraged, one such example is www.indian-medical-tourism.com. So that any who wants to come India on a medical tour may check the hospital options for his or her particular medical problem and a cost package comparison may also be done easily by the prospective visitor as the dedicated tour and portal operator will have all the major hospitals, airlines, hotels on its panel.

6) Visa for patient and accompanying family members or friends should be given very fast and in a very easy way. The facility of extension of visa for medical visitors should also be fast and easy. Government has already started Mvisa for visiting India for medical treatment and MXvisa for accompanying spouse. Mvisa and MXvisa are valid for 1 year. Still there are long queues for Mvisa and MX visa, so government should think for Mvisa on arrival.

In conclusion, India has the capability and a perfect chance to become a global health center and we hope that it achieve that goal within a decade.

Author: Dr. Sarla Sharma Associate Professor and HOD of Business Administration at Kanoria Mahila Mahavidyalaya at Jaipur. You may contact the author at doctorsarlasharma@gmail.com

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