The concept of medical tourism emerged out of combining medical treatment with holiday and relaxation on one hand, while keeping the total cost under budget – sometimes even saving a lot of money – on the other. Medical tourism is now slowly gaining popularity because people can travel and meet their medical treatment requirements at the same time.
The level of treatments being offered in India is world-class, which makes patients more comfortable. Secondly, the waiting list of patients in the USA and other western countries prompt people to travel outside to get treatment on time. When insurance companies abroad allow patients to get treatment overseas, medical tourism in India will flourish and became one of the major sectors of our economy.
Why is India becoming a favourite medical tourism destination?
India is one of the popular destinations of medical tourism, thanks to our state-of-art hospitals, renowned doctors with international work experience and cost-effective treatment. Many hospitals in India are considered to be world class, offering personalised services. In my opinion, the Indian medical fraternity works with professional expertise – as well as from their heart – when it comes to treating a patient. Doctors of Indian origin are working in many hospitals in the US, UK and the Gulf countries, thus building trust among patients there to visit India and get cheaper treatment with international expertise. Here, we also have an edge over other countries who are promoting medical tourism like Singapore, Malaysia, Turkey, and Greece. India is well connected with the world through various international flights which makes it easy and convenient for patients to access our country.
Which Indian cities are recommended for medical tourism?
Major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore are most popular sites for medical tourism because of availability of big hospitals, easy international accessibility and comfortable accommodation. No city has preference for any one kind of treatment. However, it depends on the popularity of hospitals, like Delhi Escorts Heart Institute is mostly popular for surgeries related to the heart, whereas the Apollo Hospitals of Delhi and Chennai are popular for plastic surgeries, and hip-joint replacements. We have recommended Apollo Hospital in Delhi to some overseas patients for cosmetic surgeries like tummy tuck, face upliftment and, hip and breast shaping.
Does medical tourism also include wellness centres like spas and massage parlours. If yes, can you mention a few and the services they provide.
In my opinion, the spas and massage parlours should come under wellness tourism as they have nothing to do with medical treatments. The people who come for wellness care have different views than those who come for medical treatment. Their immediate requirement is wellness rather than treatment. I think we should include treatments which requires surgery under medical tourism, and rest of the treatments must be for wellness.
What does a typical medical tourism package comprise of? Give examples of packages for a few diseases.
Medical tourism basically consists of medical treatment for patients, local transport requirement and accommodation facilities for persons accompanying the patient. Secondly, in case of diseases which are not very critical, the package also includes a small relaxation period after treatment, which can be either a stay at a mountain or beach resort, or at any wellness resorts. For example, if some patients visit India for cosmetic surgery they have to stay 1-2 days in the hospital for general check-up and pre-treatment. After this, they get 8-10 days free depending on the treatment, which they can use to travel around nearby tourist locations. They come back for final treatment, stay in the hospital for few days and then fly back. We, as medical facilitators, club it all into one package and charge the patient. However, the cost of treatment is generally payable directly to hospitals as it is very difficult for us to estimate this cost.
How is a medical tourism package chosen – does the patient choose from the given options, or does the doctor prescribe a certain package, or do you recommend packages to patients depending on their illness?
In our case, we promote ourselves as medical tourism facilitators through the website and when some patients contact us we look for the hospitals as per the patient’s requirement. Sometimes, it depends on the kind of treatment they want; sometimes they themselves select a hospital. Occasionally, we recommend cities where patients can fly in easily with less money and hospitals with approximate treatment cost to choose from. Clients are very sceptical about the standard of hospitals, they read referrals before deciding on one hospital, they ask for the bio-data of the doctor, who is in charge of their treatment, compare prices with their country and also want to know the after treatment services. It is only when patients are fully satisfied with all their queries, that they decide to board the flight to India.
Although India is very bullish on medical tourism with a spate of articles written and published on this, there is still one big question that is quite difficult to answer. That is, “What will be the after-treatment care, when patients return to their respective countries?” I think our hospitals have to make some effective arrangements or issue a strong, convincing promise on this matter, if they are really looking to become a pioneer in medical tourism. At present, many hospitals give patients the facility of call-back after treatment. But, I don’t think this is enough in case of high-risk treatment like heart surgery or liver transplant where you require regular interval check-ups and where the physical presence of the patient is necessary. Hospitals need to think and explore if they can tie-up with overseas hospitals for regular general/check-ups, emergencies and after- treatment side effects. This is simply because it is not practical for a patient from a far away country like the US, South America or UK to keep returning to India for regular check-ups. That, in fact, will defeat the very purpose of cost-effective treatment and medical tourism.