With it’s frugal innovation and cost-effective medical care, The Mecca of Medical Tourism is poised to be called The Silicon Valley of the sector.
India has been a focal point for many civilisations and trade routes since antiquity, be it for spices, sciences, medicinal feats, arts or its treasures. Historical accounts abound with reports of those who have traveled to seek improvement for their health. Medical tourism is not a new phenomenon. Even in ancient times, people traveled to other countries for health-related purposes (Bookman & Bookman, 2007; Horowitz, Rosensweig, & Jones, 2007). The ancient Greeks and Egyptians went to hot springs and baths to improve their health. Since the 1500s India has enjoyed a rich history of providing yoga instruction as well as Ayurvedic healing to patients from around the world.
The Silicon Valley or Mecca of Medical Tourism is India
Brief History of Medical Tourism in India
Some might have difficulty categorizing yoga retreats, Buddhist pilgrimages, and meditation centers as medical tourism, but the unbelievable reach of India’s healing arts is not to be ignored. Ever since yoga’s birth more than 5,000 years ago, India has enjoyed a constant influx of medical travelers and spiritual students hoping to master and benefit from this most fundamental and revered branch of alternative medicine. When Buddhism came along roughly 2,500 years later, this only added fuel to the fire and helped position India as the epicenter of Eastern cultural, spiritual, and medicinal progress.
Although Western clinical medicine eventually eclipsed India’s spiritually centered healing arts, the region has remained a veritable mecca for all practitioners of alternative medicine. In the 1960s, India received a new boost of support when the “New Age” movement began in the US. India once again became the destination of choice for thousands of Western pilgrims. What started as a flower child movement has developed into a full- fledged health tourism industry, drawing les bohemes and Manhattan socialites in equal measure. This mass influx of medical tourists was furthered helped by India’s deep commitment to technology and health care infrastructure. Not only is India one of the world’s oldest medical tourism destinations, but it is also one of the most popular ones as well.
However, traveling for the purpose of receiving treatments, such as dental surgery, cosmetic surgery, and other complex procedures is a relatively new phenomenon, having begun only in the 1980s (Horowitz & Rosensweig, 2007; Smith & Puczko, 2008). Such travels are becoming increasingly common today, as patients seek more affordable healthcare options and/or options other than those offered in their home country.
Who are medical tourists?
Customers of health tourism are known as health tourists who travel to health tourism destinations with the prime purpose of obtaining medical care and wellness for maintaining a healthy body, mind and soul. Health tourist is a person who travels to another country with the dual purpose of getting medical treatment, which is more affordable in the other country and enjoying a vacation as well. Medical tourists can be classified into two, leisure tourists who take minor treatment for their wellness as part of vacation and tourists travelling specifically for medical treatments. The former are generally residents of the industrialized nations of the world such as United States, Canada, Great Britain, Western Europe, Australia and The Middle East. The later are those who reach the shores of Medical Tourism Destinations like India for a number of reasons; the leading ones being cost effective quality healthcare, non-availability of treatment modalities being offered in destination country, lack of health insurance or coverage of certain treatment therapeutics.
What are the reasons for the development of Medical Tourism?
A combination of several factors has led to the recent increase in popularity of medical tourism. People from industrialized nations seek health tourism because of high costs of treatment in their home country. Health tourism destinations provide high quality treatment at low cost, that is the health tourist gets treatment at a fraction of cost that he has to spend for the same procedure in his home country. So person’s having limited health insurance and uninsured persons choose treatment outside their home country. More over they get an opportunity to visit a new country and enjoy its tourism products during the recuperative period.
In UK medical treatment is free under National Health Service, but patients have to wait for a long time to get their turn. The waiting period may vary from 18 to 24 months. So they choose health tourism an option to get treated within weeks. Wealthy patients from third world countries also choose for health tourism as they get better service and care from the health tourism provider.
Some health tourism destinations provide alternative medicines and traditional form of treatments. Patients wish to take alternative medicines like Ayurveda opt for health tourism. Health insurance agencies and big corporates of developed countries also choose health tourism for their clients and employees so as to reduce the cost of treatment.
Benefits of Medical Tourism:
- Health tourists get personalized attention.
- Potential savings as the cost of treatment in health tourism destination is much less than that of home country.
- Shorter waiting time, the patient need not wait in a queue for getting treatment and they receive treatment immediately after their arrival.
- Get high quality treatment with clinical outcomes similar to leading healthcare facilities at low cost.
- Chance to experience a new culture.
- Availability of holistic treatments like Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Tibetan Medicine, Unani, Siddha etc.
- Treated by highly skilled and experienced medical professionals.
- Health tourists can take the advantage of sophisticated technology at low cost.
- Rejuvenation of mind, body and soul using alternative therapies.
- Opportunity to participate in stress release programs.
- Chance to enjoy natural beauty and relaxation during the recovery period.
- Can enjoy the benefits of health tourism package including a comprehensive whole body health check to screen for any medical conditions that have emerged undiagnosed
India: The Mecca for Health Tourism and The Silicon Valley of Medical Tourism
India has become a heaven for medical tourists because of the provision of cost effective high quality treatment and overhead costs like traveling, lodging, sightseeing, food and shopping are very affordable in India.
From less than 10000 patients visiting India for medical treatment five years ago, the medical tourism market in India is worth US$ 4.7 billion, with about 700,000 foreign patients coming every year. Medical tourism market is expected to expand at an annual rate of 27 per cent. India attracts patients mostly from Africa, CIS countries, Gulf and South Asian countries who come mainly for organ transplant and treatment of orthopedic, cardiac and oncology problems. The cost of medical treatment in India is much cheaper as compared to Western Europe and North America and also South East Asian countries. Many speciality hospitals have upgraded facilities; the treatment skills are comparable with western world.
The medical care infrastructure in India includes over 500000 doctors, 15000 hospitals and 875000 beds. The sector boasts of the latest in medical technology including genomic testings, Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scan), highest tesla MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines, Da-Vinci 3rd generation Robotic Surgery, Cyberknife, Varian TrueBeam, 3DCT etc. Even the Proton Therapy machine is being installed in the country as we write this article! This is further bolstered by the quality of professionals available in the country, some of whom have international qualifications, cross-border experience and deep clinical acumen assuring superior clinical outcomes. A country that has the highest number of english speaking people who are sometimes the most coveted professionals in a number of countries can only assure patients and their loved ones that India is a medical tourism destination of choice for one and all.
High quality treatment at a fraction of the cost, in comparison to western countries, makes India an ideal healthcare destination for highly specialized medical care. The potentials of India in the area of health tourism are identified by evaluating the health tourism products and providers of the country and the competitive advantage of India over other countries in attracting health tourists.
India gains a competitive advantage regarding the cost of treatment. It offers high quality treatment at low cost compared to other major health tourism destinations. Hence India can lure health tourists from USA and UK where the cost of treatment and waiting period is high. For example, an open heart surgery in India costs $ 4500 only but it costs more than $ 18000 in other major health tourism destinations. People of USA and UK have to wait more than 9 months for most of the healthcare procedures in their home country.
Some of the unique advantages that India provides for medical tourism from the west are:
- Experienced and Qualified Pool of Medical Professionals
- Strong Private Hospital Infrastructure
- Focus on Clinical Quality and Patient Safety with JCI (more than 30 hospitals) and ISQUA (more than 300) accredited hospitals
- Medical decisions by Doctors, Not by rules made by Non-Medicos (as is the case in many nations where there are HMOs and Health Insurance)
- International Standards in Healthcare
- Indian specialists have performed over 1000,000 major surgeries and over a million other surgical procedures including cardio-thoracic, neurological and cancer surgeries, with success rates at par with international standards. (see Harvard Business School Case Studies)
- The success rate of cardiac bypass in India is 98.7 per cent against 97.5 per cent in the U.S.
- India’s success in leading bone marrow transplant programs of the country is more than 85 per cent
- The success rate in leading renal transplant programs of the country is more than 98 per cent
- High Quality Medical Treatment at Low Cost (on an average one saves more than 60-90% of US and UK healthcare costs without compromising on outcomes)
- English is widely spoken
- A Government that is favorable to medical tourism (with the introduction of eVisa, coming to India couldn’t be any easier!)
- Familiarity of Western Patients with Indian Doctors (1 in 10 physicians in US is an Indian and many Indian physicians are serving in the NHS in UK)
- Provision of Alternative Treatments and wellness tourism services
- Advancement in Medical Technology and State-of-art Infrastructure
Health tourism is not a new concept and it is thousands of years old. Earliest health tourism centres were run by Greeks, ancient Romans, Persians, Arabs, Europeans and Indians. In the current scenario, health tourism is gaining popularity as more people prefer healthcare travel in search of getting high quality treatment at low cost. Health tourism destinations take it as a golden chance to explore their healthcare and tourism resources. India is showing the world not just how to be a leader in Medical Tourism but how frugal innovation and customer focus leads to a competitive and cost-effective healthcare system.