medical tourism,global medical,health tourism,international healthcare,overseas healthcare,global healthcare
Industry NewsHome
  India Today, Nov. 24, 2003  
 

Health

MEDICAL TOURISM

Hospitality Industry

Complementing healthcare with tourism is the new mantra that has seen foreigners flocking to India for treatment.

By Arun Ram

One could well be forgiven for momentarily confusing Spencer Plaza, Chennai, with a Dubai shopping mall. Arabs pour in and out of trendy showrooms, laden with bags full of branded clothes, footwear and cosmetics. Having satiated their shopping instincts, many head back, not to a hotel, but to a hospital, and to ailing relatives. For these are tourists with a difference, attracted to India for its cutting-edge medical expertise more than its charms.

FROM AFGHANISTAN TO DELHI: Haje Abdul Aha Khan (right) is one of those very few who trundle across the war-torn country for quality medical care. Khan came to Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi, for oncology treatment.

It is a scenario being replicated across India. Sensing that healthcare plus tourism adds to big opportunities, corporate hospitals, in cooperation with tour operators, are promoting India as a healthcare destination from the Middle East to the Far East. "International standard medical service at affordable prices" has been highlighted as the selling point. Packages have been designed to include something for everyone- while patients recuperate in the hospital, their relatives enjoy the sights and shops. Hospitals like the Apollo Group have opened information centres in key foreign countries to attract medical tourists. Plus, most hospitals have put up detailed information on the Internet. Recently a CII delegation, led by heart surgeon Naresh Trehan of Escorts Heart Institute, Delhi, went to the UK to discuss such possibilities.

It is patients like British pensioner James Campbell, 68, that they hope to attract. Living in agony because of osteo-arthrititis of both knees, he was told that he would have to wait for three years for an operation in the UK. He opted to come to India, to be operated upon by Ahmedabad-based surgeon Vikram Shah. Campbell saved 12,000 in the process.

The figures support their optimism. The Rs 1,500-crore sector is growing at 30 per cent annually. Recent CII-McKinsey studies show that healthcare tourism alone can contribute Rs 10,000 crore as additional revenue for corporate hospitals. And it is not Ayurveda, yoga and alternative medicine-traditional Indian strengths-but the expertise of Indian doctors in modern medicine from heart surgery to phakonit cataract removal that has put India on the world healthcare map. The country attracts about one lakh patients from abroad every year.

HEALTHY BUDGET
HEART SURGERY: Costs $30,000 (Rs 14.4 lakh) in the US. But Indian hospitals charge Rs 4 lakh.

ORTHOPAEDIC SURGERY: In the West, the expense comes to $20,000 (Rs 9.6 lakh). The package in India costs one third of that amount.

CATARACT OPERATIONS: $20,000 is the price for surgery in the US. In India, it comes to just $500.

LIVER TRANSPLANT: The cost comes to a whopping $300,000 abroad while Indian super specialty hospitals perform the operation for just $45,000.

Patients can recuperate with little fear of a strain on their wallets. A heart surgery that costs $30,000 (Rs 14.4 lakh) in the US is possible in a leading Indian hospital for $8,000 (Rs 3.84 lakh). A bone marrow transplant that costs $250,000 and a liver transplant that costs $300,000 are available at around $45,000 in India. While an orthopaedic surgery costs $20,000 abroad, it is billed at less than a third the amount in India. Indraprastha Apollo and Escorts Heart Institute in Delhi, MIOT (Madras Institute of Orthopaedics and Traumatology) in Chennai, Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS) in Kolkata, Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai and Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences in Thiruvananthapuram are some of the hospitals which have medical tourism high on their agenda.

The MIOT experiment could be a classic example of the growth potential of medical tourism. From earning Rs 50 lakh in foreign exchange in 2000-1, MIOT's billing of foreign patients grew to Rs 6.8 crore in 2002-3. The hospital has earned Rs 4 crore in the past five months. Last year, MIOT treated 763 patients of whom 497 were from Arab countries. Escorts gets an average of 1,000 patients a year from countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Greece. "Our focus is on foreign patients. This is just the beginning and the potential this sector offers is enormous," says Dr. P.V.A. Mo- handas, MIOT's founder and a leading orthopaedic surgeon. "We make foreign patients feel at home here."

FROM UNITED KINGDOM TO AHMEDABAD: James Campbell did not want to endure a three-year-long wait for a knee-replacement surgery back home. He was successfully operated upon on both his knees by Dr Vikram Shah (right).

The strategy followed by corporate hospitals-or the good old Indian hospitality being extended to patients- clearly makes good business sense. Right from the moment the patient and his relatives land at the airport, the hospital takes care of their needs, starting with a person from their own country receiving them. "Speaking their language is good enough, but having people from their country is vital," says Mohandas. MIOT has hired people from Oman, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It also has special chefs for preparing Arabian, continental and native food, all part of the package. A typical knee-replacement surgery package comes for Rs 10 lakh and includes accommodation, food and sightseeing. "If someone wants to visit any place in India, we arrange for the tickets and hotel facilities," says Galal Ahmed Dawod, a Sudanese working as overseas marketing manager at MIOT. Apollo has similar provisions.

S.K. Sama, chairman, Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi, says, "We extend such hospitality to all our outstation patients, Indian and foreign."

The concept is a huge draw. MIOT's dozen super deluxe rooms are all occupied by Arab patients. The Apollo Group has had more than 60,000 patients from 55 countries in the past five years. According to Group President Prathap C. Reddy, the annual health bill of people from Afro-Asian countries seeking treatment outside their country is $10 billion. "If India can tap even a fraction of that market, the potential is enormous," he says.

Abu Dhabi-based Nanoora Rashid, whose cousin was treated at MIOT, underlines the potential. "My company usually refers patients to the US and Germany; India never figured on our list. But after seeing the high standard of treatment at such prices, I would recommend India to my bosses." Kerala, meanwhile, is proudly flaunting its traditional strength in Ayurveda besides projecting its modern medicine prowess to woo foreign patients. "We are focusing on special health-cum-tour packages to cater to a wide range of patients," says M.I. Sahadulla, chairman of the new Rs 55-crore Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS), Thiruvananthapuram. KIMS, along with its sister organisation Great India Tour Company (GITC), offers "world-class medical holiday packages at almost one third the cost (in the West)". KIMS is banking on its advantage of having 200 NRIs among its promoters. In Kolkata, about 1,000 Bangladeshis arrive every month to hospitals such as RTIICS, AMRI Apollo, West Bank and Peerless.

FROM US TO MOHALI: Brijinder Bassi (right), who was on a holiday in her hometown, decided to stay back for high-class medical attention when she was diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

In January this year, when the US-resident Brijinder Kaur Bassi visited her native place in Punjab on her regular winter sojourn, she felt uneasy about her health. Instead of rushing back to Alaska, she opted for a medical check-up at Fortis, a super-speciality hospital, in Mohali. She was diagnosed, to her shock, with Type II diabetes, besides high cholesterol and high blood pressure levels. She was hospitalised for three days-and the entire treatment cost her just around $1,000. A comparison is inevitable here-she would have shelled out at least $5,000 in Alaska for the same treatment. But, apart from the cost factor, what struck her the most was the "high comfort level with the doctor and world-class standard of medical care".

Says Bassi: "In the US, it is very difficult even to get appointment with a medical consultant, but here I could contact the doctor any time and even at odd hours. Even after spending nearly 40 years in the US, I have more faith in the healing touch of the Indian doctors." The 63-years-old has since been in touch with her doctor-K.P. Singh, senior consultant and endocrinologist. Last month, while on a holidaying cruise from Rome to Spain, she and her husband, an economist, took a break and landed in Mohali. The sole reason for the visit was to get her medically examined again.

The case of Haje Abdul Aha Khan, an elderly Afghan citizen who had come to Indraprashtha Apollo Hospital, Delhi, for oncology treatment, is an indication that people from even impoverished countries are trundling across the borders for high-class treatment.

To capitalise on all these opportunities, a coordinated strategy is required. Upgrading Indian hospitals to global standards is necessary to attract the lucrative US market. But Trehan sounds a caveat, "Our facilities are for Indians. Patients here should not be deprived." Health opportunities for foreign patients may lead to better standards at home.

-with Supriya Bezbaruah, Stephen David, Sandeep Unnithan, Labonita Ghosh,
Ramesh Vinayak and M.G. Radhakrishnan

Back to Industry News items


Selected Industry News Items | Home Page | Washington Post, Oct 21, 2004 | The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 26., 2004 | BusinessWeek, Feb. 16, 2004 | The Times of India, Feb. 14, 2004 | The New york Times, May 18, 2003 | CBS News, 60 Minutes, Apr. 25, 2005 | Yahoo! News, Sep. 25, 2005 | TIME Magazine, May 29, 2006 | The State, Feb. 10, 2007 | Wall Street Journal, Mar. 8, 2007 | The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 19, 2008 | The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 26, 2008 | The New York Times, Mar. 10, 2008 | The Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2008




Starfield Technologies, Inc.