While the concept of travelling from one’s home country to another came from the noble-blooded of the ancient Greek and Sumerian civilizations, who travelled to exotic places for general relaxation and leisure, it is interesting to note how a reversal in a generally elitist pattern came about in the 1990’s. While residents of lesser developed or developing countries such as Thailand, Singapore and India have for long tended to look abroad for state-of-the-art medical treatments, ironically enough, people of more developed countries such as the US or the UK have begun to look for alternative options to their country of residence. This can be traced to rising inflation in Western and European countries, along with an aging population that has increased demand for medical attention, coupled with the absence of medical insurance uncompensated by the inadequacy of a satisfactory number of trained doctors.
In vivid contrast to the currently unfavourable position that developed nations stand in this respect, India certainly holds a fairly vanguard position by virtue of its adoption of cutting-edge equipment and latest technology that’s been the buzzword in the West, a plethora of exceedingly well-qualified doctors, and most importantly, a difference in costs by a massive margin. India has, for long now, been a blooming hub for medical tourism, attracting foreign visitors from all over the world; with the cost-effective dental, cosmetic and surgical care offered to patients complete with the latest technologies and medical procedures in use abroad. A comparison of costs of surgical procedures in a selected few countries – India, Thailand and Singapore, has disclosed the surprisingly low cost of medical procedures in India — a phenomenon that may be attributed to major factors such as low salaries offered to doctors and nurses on account of a large population and thereby, supply of labour, and low infrastructural and overhead costs that are offered at a fraction of the retail price of a similar procedure undertaken in the home country of a patient — add to that an exchange rate that is highly skewed in favour of the US dollar.
It is these factors that would make it unwise to assume that low cost of medical treatment in a developing country is synonymous with the lack of quality or efficiency, and thereby have it serve as a deterrent to seeking medical attention outside of developed countries. In fact, Chennai has been termed the health capital of India, serviced by a number of speciality hospitals in the city that attract nearly 150 international patients every day. At the same time, it is pertinent to note that India’s strict visa regulations enforced by the government have often served as a hindrance to a large number of medical tourists, disallowing entry into the country on account of inflexible visa regulations. But recent news reports of India’s offer of free 90-day visas to Maldivian tourists, and also the possibility of extension of a visa-on-arrival facility to nationals of 180 countries suggest that the trend may soon be about to change. Medical tourism has for long received enthusiastic support and involvement by the government, which has realized and acknowledged the potential that this field harbors in India, and is expected to continue doing so especially in the light of recent developments. It has awarded JCI accreditations to a large number of deserving hospitals, along with adequate funds to continue further research and medical treatment.
A long road still remains to be paved ahead to India’s achievement of its medical tourism dreams – and we’re already on our way there.