Saturday, August 06, 2005

Medical tourism destination India

India, by now, is known as one of the foremost centers of outsourcing. Alongwith traditional sources of outsourcing like IT (technology) outsourcing, Business Process outsourcing and Call Center outsourcing, there are other lesser known outsourcing happening out of India. Some amount of automobile design work is outsourced, as is a small amount of manufacturing, teaching is being outsourced; indeed some kids in America are taught by someone in India over the web.

An emerging trend over the past few years, medical tourism has become a flow from a trickle. There have been talks of promoting India as a global health destination, while others estimate that this can earn a huge amount of dollars for India.

A recent Businessworld (registration/subscription required) issue focussed on medical tourism to India. Six hospitals in India are on their way to acquire what is known as a "Gold seal of Quality", an international accreditation. (Incidentally, international accreditation of any kind is a craze in India. The largest number of CMMI certified software companies are in India. I am sure there are many others). This Gold seal is issued by Joint Commission International (JCI) of the US. As in other spheres, there is competition here also in the shape of the Far East nations like Singapore, Thailand, China obviously and some others.

...The rush for JCI accreditation has actually spread across Asia - from Turkey and Jordan to China and Singapore. Seventeen hospitals across the continent have bagged the coveted seal in the last three years and at least 25 are in different stages of preparation for it. (In all, some 57 hospitals across 15 countries are accredited by JCI.) For all these hospitals, the seal is nothing less than a business imperative....

...The underlying expectation around the JCI seal is that it would attract some of those, who, daunted by the soaring costs in the largest healthcare market in the world, are looking out for cheaper treatment elsewhere. Whereas the costs were always much lower in Asia - as low as a fifth of that in the US for a lasik eye surgery - a JCI seal would ensure that the hospitals also measure up to the best in the US in terms of patient care and safety. It would make it easier for these hospitals to be eligible for cover by US insurers (though the decision would be the insurer's). All this, in turn, would attract more health travellers from the rest of the world too...

...Back in 2002, McKinsey reckoned that the opportunity for India, a country that has for long 'exported' successful doctors and nurses, could be as large as $1 billion-2 billion by 2012. That's the pie the corporate hospitals in India are after...

No doubt, while it is good for India as a whole economically, it would be ironic that the country where a huge number of people do not have access to basic healthcare facilities would feature high on the list of international health tourism.

The spinoffs of health tourism for a nation like India are enormous. The IT expertise, if channelised by the hospitals could take hospitals to the next level in terms of technology. Health tourism could mean a boom for recreational health tourism. Kerala, the state that is Indias foremost tourist destination, for instance is famous for its ayurvedic (ayurveda) massages as for its scenic beauty. Increased inflow of health tourists would also mean that hospitals could, in theory, subsidise poor patients by charging visitors a higher fee (which would still be significantly lower than what they would have paid in their country). Health tourism could also improve the "real" tourism sector in due course. Overall its an incentive for medical facilities to upgrade themselves to international standards, if only to attract patients from abroad, which in the long run is beneficial for everyone.


Kaps said...

India's medical prowess is well known among SAARC countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and SriLanka. they travel all the way to India to visit reputed hospitals such as Narayana Hrudalaya, Sankara Nethralaya, Madras Medical Mission. But most of this is due to the fact that such high quality medical care is not avlbl in those countries. the next wave has to come from other countries (Western world) whose patients might chose India for cheaper medical costs.

Singapore, malaysia and Thailand (to some extent) have promoted them as medical destinations and they are getting a good number of medical tourists from Indonesia, Australia and Europe. Because of the popularity of budget carriers, travelling within ASEAN is quite easy. However the lack of internnational budget airlines serving India might be a detriment.

Neelakantan said...

I am not sure budget airlines have too much of an impact in medical tourism. And then again they might, package operators might actually bundle it all as a health package.

Indias medical tourism industry has grown by leaps and bounds and will continue to do so. However, our politicians will still go abroad and get treated!

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