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Medical tourism gets a boost

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

A recent meeting of stakeholders underlined the numerous challenges and the vast potential of the sector in Maharashtra, says Menka Shivdasani

On June 30, when stakeholders of the medical tourism industry in Maharashtra came together to discuss the state’s potential in this sector, they recognised that while the prospects were bright, a great deal of work needed to be done. As one of the speakers pointed out, in the 1980s, Mumbai was a centre for patients from the Middle East; in fact, as this writer recalls, a large hospital in the city that was very popular with such visitors, was often jokingly referred to as a ‘hotel’. Then, somehow the city fell off the radar as competitive health services from places like Thailand and Singapore became popular.

Medical tourism—defined as travel by an ill person to another country for medical care and well-being, rehabilitation and recuperation—is a focus area for the Indian government. In addition to the core medical facilities, it involves a holistic approach that includes airport-to-airport facilitation, from airline connectivity to accommodation and post-treatment vacation destinations.

In October 2015, the medical tourism sector in India was estimated to be valued at US$3 billion, with projections of growing to $7–8 billion by 2020. A Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) report noted that medical travel to India was cost-effective and treatment from accredited facilities was at par with developed countries but at a much lower cost. The Medical Tourism Market Report: 2015, pointed out that the country offered a wide variety of procedures at about one-tenth the cost of similar ones in the United States. According to some estimates, heart surgery costs up to $70,000 in Britain and $150,000 in the US; in India’s best hospitals it could cost between $3,000 and $10,000. Other specialities, such as dental, eye and cosmetic surgeries, cost three to four times in western countries as much as in India.

In fact, the National Health Policy in India strongly encourages medical tourism and ‘medical visas’ were introduced some years ago. Along with various allopathic streams, the policy also  promotes ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha and homoeopathy (AYUSH), for which India has always been known. The government portal, www.indiahealthcaretourism.com aims to provide comprehensive information to medical travellers. In a 2017 Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) / IMS Health report, Sudhanshu Pandey, Joint Secretary, Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry mentioned that the government had set up a ‘National Medical and Wellness Tourism Promotion Board’ to look into the various issues such as Regulatory, Accreditation and Marketing.

At the conference in Mumbai on Saturday, Vijay Kumar Gautam, principal secretary, Maharashtra Tourism Develop-ment Corporation, spoke about how Maharashtra is creating an eco-system for medical tourism; six integrated wellness hubs of 50 to 100 acres each are being created in locations such as Nashik, Konkan, Pune and Aurangabad, he said. Igatpuri is already known as a wellness destination. However, he added, stakeholders needed to build trust and credibility in order to build our reputation as a medical tourist destination.

Dr. Malvika Khadke, Director, Pandoza Solutions Pvt Ltd; Ashutosh Rathod, Director, Tourism, Maharashtra; Dr. Anil Bankar, Gulf Medical University; Jainaba Jagne, Ambassador of Designate of the Gambia; Dr.Ramakanta Panda, Vice-Chairman and MD, Asian Heart Institute, Jaykumar Rawal, Minister of Tourism and Rekha Chowdhary, global wellness ambassador of India, at the inauguration of the conference

THE CHALLENGES

Dr. Anil Bankar, Assistant Professor—Medical Tourism, Gulf Medical University, UAE, who has done a Ph.D on the subject, spelled out some of these issues. Pointing out the lack of structured medical tourism education and awareness, he referred to a host of challenges. These included a lack of information about doctors; the refusal to accept international insurance; airline connectivity, post-operative care and ethical-legal aspects.

Dr. Kuldeep Raj Kohli, Director of AYUSH, referred to another challenge that the government is currently dealing with—ratings of facilities. “The process of accreditation into platinum, gold and silver is currently going on,” he said. He also noted that while several corporate hospitals provided cardiac and various other treatments, more AYUSH hospitals needed to come up. He spoke about how the “insurance sector should be cheering” at the opportunities but had not so far been responsive. Speakers also pointed out that insurance companies should look at offering one package that included everything from visas to accommodation.

Another big problem, particularly in a city like Mumbai, is the fact that accommodation is very expensive; as V K Gautam remarked, of every Rs 100 that a patient’s family paid, Rs 60 went towards accommodation. It was for this reason that the government was looking at ‘clusters’ in less expensive surrounding areas, rather than just the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The development of homestays could help solve this problem, offering safe, inexpensive accommodation.

And what of the post-treatment options? With patients wanting to make the most of their international travel, it was vital to build up tourist destinations they could visit once their treatment was complete.

THE FUTURE

With the rise of corporate hospitals, Mumbai already has the hardware in place, and as the accompanying exhibition at the conference proved, it also offers high-end medical care, including robotic surgery. The www.indiahealthcaretourism.com site notes that the country has the largest pool of doctors and paramedics in South Asia (1.2 million Allopathic doctors. 0.17 million dental surgeons, two million nurses and 0.8 million formally trained Ayurvedic doctors.)

If medical tourism has to flourish, however, all the related segments need to step up to build a cohesive offering. That the government is actively supporting this growth is a good sign; hopefully more such events will bring the various stakeholders together.

“We want to be the bridge that will provide a clear path to business growth for service providers in Maharashtra by connecting them with international facilitators,” said Malvika Khadke, director, Pendoza Solutions Pvt Ltd., which organised the Health and Wellness Tourism Stakeholders Meet. “This event is just the starting point,” she added.

Pic courtesy:Reliance Foundation Hospital

Short Takes

  • India offers world-class healthcare facilities at costs that are far lower than elsewhere
  • With cutting-edge technology and the growing number of corporate hospitals, India has a great advantage
  • However, there are several challenges that need to be met
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