By John A Raju:
Amidst the raucous voices raised against the seven star status of hospitals in India, the medical tourism in our land is on track for a major boom. By 2015, this sector is set to experience an annual growth of 30%, making it a 2 billion dollar industry. This is however only a tiny windfall when compared to the real potential of the sector. The rise has been phenomenal. Where there were 850,000 medical tourists to India in 2011, the number is set to pole vault to 3200,000 in the next two years.
What makes India an attractive destination for medical tourists is primarily the low cost. It is not at all a loss to travel half the world to visit India for your medical treatment because the savings you make for foregoing similar medical treatment from the US ranges from 65% to 90%. And when you have to splash only a tenth of your cash for your health, it is no surprise that India attracts such visitors by the droves.
The low cost doesn’t mean you get inferior services. The staff is highly qualified. The expertise and standards are high, not just for the doctors but for the working nurses as well, which makes the care you receive top notch. The wide range of treatments available from experienced physicians in institutions with sustained reputation in clinical excellence, along with the compliance to international accreditation means that patients, in addition to being saved the heartburn of a lighter purse, do not have to compromise on their health by any stretch. The choices available here are immense. We can boast of more than 3400 hospitals with 755,000 plus registered practitioners tending to various needs of the Indian health industry. India is also becoming a destination for foreign doctors, with prominent hospitals like Apollo stating they receive a substantial number of foreign applicants for posts in their establishment.
While there are many coming here from foreign lands for cosmetic & regenerative treatment, the vast majority cross the seas for major treatments like knee replacement, cardiac surgery, bypass, liver transplant, cancer treatment & such serious ailments. This sector, though in the nascent stage at the moment, can become a major revenue generator for India in the coming years. But we aren’t utilising the potential to the maximum, thanks to our stifling visa regime in this regard.
In the global medical tourism market, that is now a 150 billion dollar industry, India is set to get only 2 billion. Even as Thailand received 1.2 million medical tourists and little Singapore had 6.1 lakh medical guests, our visitors amounted only to 3.5 lakh. This isn’t due to inefficiency or poorer reputation of the Indian medical field, but rather due to the inconveniences of the visa rules.
For example, a medical visa doesn’t permit more than 3 visits a year to India, inevitably hindering oncology treatment seekers, or any visitors seeking solace for illnesses requiring follow on treatment or check ups. Then comes the police station visits for verification, not just for the patient but also for their attendants. This is naturally very irritating and frustrating. When coming for some peaceful treatment and convalescing, to be traveling back and forth for visa formalities and procedures and along police station corridors is a big inconvenience.
Our capacity for growth in this sector is really immense. Visa restrictions and formalities shouldn’t prove inhibitors for such a promising field. Authorities must find more viable solutions to tap deeper into this potential well. We aren’t short on energetic and skilled doctors, and we have a substantial number of people outside who desire their services as well. If we can ease the bureaucratic barricades which stall these medical tourists, we might just as well be witnessing something akin to the IT revolution, in the medical field.