India emerged as a front runner in the medical tourism space as early as the 1990s. Today, the sector is valued at $3 billion and has been witnessing a steady 22-25% growth year on year. Recent reports indicate that it is expected to grow to $6 billion by 2018 and $8 billion by 2020. This seems like good news, till we consider that the global market for medical tourism is approximately $100 billion.
At the moment, India attracts patients from Africa and the Middle East as well as a trickle from the US and Europe. Most people travel here for surgeries, transplants, cancer and kidney treatments, and in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Patients from US and Europe also come here for cosmetic surgeries that are expensive in their countries and most often not covered by insurance. India, of course, is more than well equipped by way of medical technology and skill to address these issues.
India’s healthcare history:
India is the birthplace of some of the most ancient and well-known branches of medicine and holistic healing.
From yoga to Ayurveda and naturopathy, the country’s expertise in alternative medicine and healthcare goes back centuries, and encompasses an overall focus on a healthy well-balanced life.
As modern life grows in complexity and the incidence of “lifestyle diseases” like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease increase, we have begun to comprehend the deep linkage of the mind and spirit to the body.
Appreciation for the ancient science of Ayurveda, and its ability to promote long term health with no side effects, is also on the rise not just in India but internationally as well.
The real challenge that India faces as always is in creating enabling infrastructure and enacting patient-friendly laws.
India already boasts best in class medical infrastructure at the many JCI and NABH accredited hospitals, and skilled human resources in the shape of doctors, nurses and technicians.
Indian doctors already form an impressive proportion of western healthcare. They should be roped into our marketing and advocacy campaigns by our embassies around the world. If we act now, we can do in healthcare what our space programme has already demonstrated: global quality healthcare at one-tenth Western costs.
What India Needs to Do?
To truly capture the global medical tourism market, India should consider all its strengths and market a holistic healing approach.
This also makes eminent sense given the affluent West’s growing preference for organic products, vegan diets and farm-to-table local produce.
On the lines of Make in India and Skill India, it is time for a comprehensive Heal in India campaign that promotes India’s comprehensive healthcare services. To be successful the programme must chart a plan of action for every phase of a medical tourist’s journey.
The country must establish strategic tie ups with the MEA and Indian embassies for easier visa approvals and on ground support such as interpreter help desks, transport, accommodation in association with the Tourism Department and the MHA.
Most importantly, the income from foreign patients can be used to subsidise the cost of care for domestic low income patients and improve public healthcare.
With the rest of the world gearing up to cash in on the medical tourism space, it is imperative for India to redesign and restructure its value offerings for international patients. It is time for India to use its ancient knowledge to truly heal the world.