Intro to Medical Tourism in India

Medical Tourism In India

When you think of visiting India as a tourist, you might think of seeing the Taj Mahal, exploring New Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta, or perhaps even the Medieval city of Orchha!

However, for a number of years now a growing reason to visit India is for medical treatment. According to one of India’s leading newspapers The Economic Times, people from across the globe travel to India seeking medical care. They come principally from South Asia and the Middle East, though also from the United States, United Kingdom and other developed Western countries.

In recent years, almost half a million people (495,056 to be exact) visited India from abroad for a medical procedure and it’s thought that the industry is worth 5 to 6 billion US dollars!

So read on to learn more about health tourism in India, including an introduction to the term, what to consider when choosing medical tourism companies in the country and which Indian cities you’re likeliest to visit if you’re coming from overseas seeking a procedure.

What Is Medical Tourism in India?

This is when you visit from overseas for healthcare reasons. It’s increasingly popular among people around the globe, especially among visitors from lower-income countries who travel to India to avail themselves of the better-developed healthcare facilities, according to former Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons.

Depending on where you’re coming from, seeking medical assistance can be far cheaper than doing so at home. Using the United States as a benchmark, getting the same procedure done in India can be 65%-90% cheaper!

Also, India developed a reputation as a medical tourism hotspot because of the quality of its healthcare staff. Indian doctors commonly train abroad, often in the USA or UK, while English is an official language and almost universally spoken. As the global lingua franca, this adds to India’s appeal as a place to seek healthcare.

The Indian government actively encourages healthcare tourism as a way to boost the economy. To encourage healthcare visits from abroad, in February 2019 authorities introduced a medical visa that allows you to stay for up to 6 months. That said, as of August 2019 you can also visit the country with a regular tourist visa for any healthcare procedure except an organ transplant.

How to Find Medical Tourism Companies in India

When you search for ‘medical tourism companies and websites in India’, any number of firms come up. So how do you find a reputable, trustworthy company for your healthcare procedure? Well, a good starting step is to seek firms with government accreditation, official recognition or that otherwise adhere to widely recognised international standards.

In India, the government body responsible for the accreditation of hospitals is the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH). It’s a constituent board of the Quality Council of India, and equivalent to the USA-based Joint Commission (JCI) which accredits both American and international medical services.

At the time of writing, India has over 350 NABH-accredited hospitals and 39 JCI-accredited ones. When you seek medical treatment there, this could be worth bearing in mind. You can find the full list of NABH-accredited hospitals here.

In addition, some Indian healthcare firms are ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Certified. This means that the company works using independently established, internationally recognised standards in its systems and services. This could be a factor to keep present when selecting a healthcare company too.

Meanwhile, other medical companies in this country have been awarded National Tourism Awards by the government of India! In the past, Medi Connect India was awarded this prize in the ‘Tour Operator Promoting Niche Segments other than
Adventure and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions)’ category. According to the award text, ‘it is the only Health Care Facilitator approved by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India’.

Also, some healthcare firms have been government-recognised as Medical Value Providers.

It’s important to note that most health tourism here is done in the private sector and that, so far, there’s little coordination between countries or international regulations in place. As such, if there’s a problem with your procedure, there may be few means for legal redress or compensation. This could be worth discussing with a solicitor or your doctor before you go.

What Is a Medical Tourism Facilitator in India?

This (typically called an ‘MDF’ in the industry) is a company that mediates between the patient and the healthcare provider prior to treatment. For example, if you’re abroad and seeking treatment, you tell the MDF what’s your condition and your budget, and the MDF will then search for an adequate healthcare company.

Commonly, the MDF will have offices both in the country you’re flying to and your native country. The most common nationality for health tourism to India is by far Bangladesh, and many MDFs have offices there too.

As with your healthcare provider, it’s a good idea to seek an MDF with institutional recognition. At the time of writing, the NABH has recognised just 2 MDFs, namely AAA+ Healthcare Consultancy Services and Magnus MediTourism, both in Mumbai. Given the countless MDFs operating, this may be another factor to keep top of mind as you research treatment.

Who Are Medical Tourists in India?

These are the people who visit from abroad for healthcare, perhaps including yourself. As noted above, almost half a million people travelled to India in recent years for treatment, so if you’re visiting New Dehli, Chennai or Mumbai for a procedure, you’re in good company!

Of these close to half a million individuals, over 200,000 came from Bangladesh. The next most common nationality was Afghanistan, with over 50,000 visitors, closely followed by Iraq. Making up the top 5, there were also tens of thousands of visits from Oman and Yemen.

In addition, it’s common for members of the Indian diaspora to return for healthcare too. These might include, for example, Brits or Americans with Indian-born parents and strong family ties to the country who come for healthcare because it’s less expensive than where they live.

Where Are the Medical Tourism Hospitals in India?

The city of Chennai, in eastern India’s Bay of Bengal, has been called the country’s “medical capital” by sources including The Hindu and The India Times newspapers. Roughly 45% of health tourists come to the city, equivalent to some 150 patients a day. At the time of writing, 23 private hospitals in the city were accredited by the NABH, up from just 6 in 2012.

Medical tourism in Bangalore, Delhi, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Mumbai is also common. As noted above, it may be advisable to seek guidance from an officially recognised MDF, as where you obtain treatment could depend on your budget, condition and other factors.

Medical Tourism in India Statistics

It’s fun facts time! Here are some top statistics with which to amaze and delight your friends and colleagues:

  1. India is the second most popular health tourism destination worldwide, beaten only by Costa Rica and followed by Malaysia, Mexico and Singapore.
  2. Recently, only 649 Americans visited for healthcare, and only 755 Brits. 97 persons arrived from France and 109 from Germany, compared to 221,751 Bangladeshis!
  3. Officially, 45,355 individuals from the Maldives have sought treatment or roughly 10% of the Maldives’ 445,000 population! However, this figure has been called into doubt.
  4. A hip replacement in the USA might cost you around 40,000 US dollars and just 7,000 US dollars in India, a saving of 82.5%! It’s a similar case for a heart bypass too.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Medical Tourism?

For patients who are arriving from low-income countries, health tourism provides them access to healthcare that they might not be able to access in their own countries. For this reason, the majority of such tourists are from developing nations like Iraq and Yemen.

For India, medical tourists provide a welcome source of income to favour economic growth. This explains why there’s an official medical visa, and why the government awards tourism prizes to healthcare providers! The industry is worth billions of dollars in income from abroad a year.

The disadvantages of healthcare tourism include the fact that there’s so far little regulation or coordination in the sector, nationally or internationally. As such, prospective patients must take care to pick a quality, reputable provider, especially given that we’re talking about their health.

Another possible disadvantage might be tourists depriving the local population of healthcare. However, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. For example, of the roughly 12,500 hospital beds available in Chennai, it’s estimated that local citizens occupy half.

What Types of Medical Tourism Are There?

There are as many types as there are healthcare procedures, including for cancer treatments, organ transplants, cardiac surgery, dental work, fertility treatment, plus aesthetic and elective procedures.

Questionnaire on Medical Tourism in India

It’s normal to fill in questionnaires regarding your treatment both before and after the procedure. Among other things, you’ll be asked to provide basic details about yourself like your name, age, and condition. After, you may be asked to evaluate your experience.

Growth of Medical Tourism in India

At the time of writing, it’s believed that the industry is worth some 5 or 6 billion US dollars and it’s set to expand to some 12 billion US dollars in value.

However, these estimates have been queried as, given the roughly 500,000 health tourists that arrived recently, this would mean that each patient is spending around 12,000 US dollars. Since the majority of the country’s health tourists arrive from low-income countries, this may be doubtful. Nonetheless, the sector’s growth seems clear.

Scope of Medical Tourism in India

The global market for health tourism is estimated between 45.5 to 72 billion US dollars. So what with the country’s estimated 5 to 6 billion US dollars from this sector, there’s clearly scope to expand and gain market share. To this end, recently the government commissioned a new Medical and Wellness Tourism Promotion Board to promote its industry, with 14 offices worldwide.