India Emerges As a Favourite Destination for Medical Value Travelers
Healthcare Delivery in India finds itself at a strange crossroads. On one hand, you have the growth of private insurance and public health schemes that have provided access to private healthcare to millions. On the other these largest intermediaries and in effect, purchasers of healthcare services have negotiated hospital services down to the most affordable prices, thereby leading to a good number of healthcare players to operate on razor-thin margins. In addition, the proliferation of private healthcare infrastructure has created a buyer’s market, where cash patients are highly sought after, have the pick of the litter and can exert immense pricing pressure on healthcare providers.
These factors have led to a strain in topline expansion for private healthcare institutions that are unable or unwilling to add beds/capacity.
However, there is one category of customers who are highly sought after by large healthcare institutions who have a significantly higher willingness to pay and seem unaffected by these factors; those engaging in Medical Tourism, Medical Value Travel or MVT.
In the late 1900s, MVT found solid footing in the US and Western Europe; surely, we’ve all heard about those of means travelling to the UK, Germany Switzerland or the US for advanced and cutting-edge treatments. Even Singapore, which emerged into great prominence in the latter half of the 20th century found itself at the center of Asian Medical Travel due to its world-class healthcare infrastructure.
However, due to the dissemination of technology and education India developed into a force to be reckoned with in the global healthcare scene. Established as the Pharmacy of the World and known for turning out medical talent par excellence in addition to being a veritable store of cultural legacy India was and is able to offer much more than just medical care.
Building Trust: Indiais able to create entire experiences where travellers can experience millennia-old culture, traditional remedies for the body and mind yet access cutting edge healthcare in the same trip. This offering along with India’s adoption and comfort with the English language has kept the flow of international health travellers coming to the country at a breakneck clip. In fact, India’s MVT sector has been growing at a CAGR of 30 per cent while the global average is hovering at 17 per cent. The Indian Medical Tourism Industry is growing at a larger pace. The Medical tourism industry has evolved rapidly and India has emerged as one of the leading service provider and a favourite destination for Medical Value Travelers.
Macroeconomic Factors: There have also been certain macroeconomic factors that have fueled the swell of incoming medical tourists. The weakening of the Indian Rupee and a very fluid and efficient labour market that have kept costs relatively low. Combined with the ease of travel across continents due to the advancements in aviation, and ability to communicate across borders, access medical care and information about medical facilities via the internet, and a robust international financial infrastructure have all reduced the friction and information asymmetry that may have stood in the way of patients from all over the world in choosing India as a preferred healthcare destination.
Skilled Doctors & Medical Personnel: Having produced and nurtured lasting healthcare institutions in a very short period of time, India has established itself as a leading player in Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, Kidney and Liver Transplant and more recently Orthopedics. This is largely due to the return of many Indian born, foreign-trained clinicians from the US, the UK, Canada and Australia who chose to return and serve their country. Another advantage the country benefits from is it centrality. India is able to draw patients in from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Central Asia, South East Asia, and the GCC. Indian Healthcare conglomerates are now actively marketing as far as Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria. More recently few patients have found their way to India from the UK and US. This is a fact well recognised in both the Britain as well in the US, to the point that Indian medical graduates are often sought after for prestigious residencies and fellowships in these countries. One of the largest contributing factors to this comfort and trust with our physicians stem from the fact that our medical education is considered one of the most competitive, challenging and rigorous course in the world.
No Language Barriers: We also have the highest percentage of doctors and nurses who speak English, making the experience of the patient more palatable. Apart from this, most of the super specialty hospitals have appointed other language experts and translators to ensure that there is no hiccup when it comes to communication.
Growth of Foreign Patients: The number of foreign patients has grown exponentially and is poised to grow by 200 percent by 2020. Estimated to grow to USD 9 Billion by 2021, India’s MVT market currently sits only second to Thailand which currently has the world’s largest number of accredited centers. This presents several significant opportunities for growth that may present them as we resolve certain hurdles.
First, there are specific specialties in which India presents itself as a world leader, head and shoulders above the competition. Yet, there are several other disciplines, namely Oncology and Weight Loss surgery, where are capabilities, are not as well showcased, and some such as stem cell and regenerative therapy and cosmetic surgery where Indian clinicians are not recognized for the skills they possess.
Some of these are due to intrinsic focuses on the Indian population’s needs that have simply translated to a superior level of clinical care that the world has acknowledged. However, there is a need to understand and work with the increase in Lifestyle disabilities such as cancer and reproductive health and IVF and other elective specialties like cosmetic surgery and dentistry. This must be accompanied by an effort by healthcare institutions to improve transparency between the healthcare traveller and the institutions process and services from a clinical, experience and financial perspective as well as improving the visibility of services apart from the legacy departments that generate the bulk of traffic.
Additionally, Indian institutions must pursue a path towards clinical excellence as well by constant introspecting, pushing higher quality standards as well as finding a strong toehold in the international academic community.
Minimum Waiting Period: India boasts of very minimal waiting time when it comes to a patient care, compared to Western European or some of the Asian countries, be it for heart surgery, kidney care, cancer treatment, neuro-spinal procedure, knee/hip/joint replacements, dental, cosmetic surgeries or weight loss surgery. In the managed care system, the patients sometimes can’t choose their doctors in other countries and that is the reason they choose to combine their pleasure with medical treatment.
Government Aid Can Boost Healthcare Sector: On the regulatory and governmental side of things, there are definitely areas in which the government can aid the further development of the sector. For instance; the country is still seen as relatively inconvenient to tourists and regulatorily cumbersome. There is also a scope for special Medical Visas to be provided by the government though it is to be noted that Bangladeshi citizens no longer require a medical visa to enter the country and seek medical treatment. Within months of the implementation of this protocol, the number of Bangladeshi patients to Kolkata has increased multifold.
With a meteoric rise in the realm of MVT India has established itself as a player to contend within the industry. With a razor sharp focus on building further credibility across disciplines, developing cache amongst clinical experts by pursuing excellence by pushing quality standards and academic rigor and finally, clearing any obstacles on the path to accessibility and creating a more holistically pleasant experience, India is well poised to take its place as a destination that provides superior clinical outcomes, holistic healing experience and of course, the pleasure of travelling to a nation steeped in culture.
Over the past three decades, we have consistently grown market share in the global medical tourism market. Though we excel in the state-of-the-art medical facilities, reputed healthcare professionals, quality nursing facilities and traditional healthcare therapies, going forward, if we want to ensure more inflow of foreign monies via medical tourism, we must further improve the quality of care we offer, and work on setting up of electronic medical records and adopt systems and processes that are being practiced in other countries so that India becomes a prime destination for medical tourism in the years to come. Going forward, we hope that India will continue to establish itself as one of the prime players in the medical tourism space.