India’s Medical Tourism Industry : What is Working and What is Not

Soaring costs, high wait times, lack of choice in treatments , comparable/better clinical outcomes in developing countries are few reasons why patients from developed nations are choosing medical tourism increasingly. In need of timely, cost effective healthcare patients around the world travel to South Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, India that not only offer competitive prices but also high quality. According to TRM, an American Market Research firm, the global medical tourism industry is currently pegged at $10 Bn and is estimated to reach $40 Bn by 2019.

India’s share of that pie is 20% with a CAGR of nearly 18%. A report by the Confederation of Indian Industry estimates the total number of medical tourists in India to hit around 300,000 in 2015.The country’s key competitive advantage is definitely low costs but the show doesn’t end there. Highly qualified surgeons and medical professionals, consistent track record of successful outcomes, sophisticated technology, state of the art private hospitals, and alternative medicine are other major attractions for the foreign healthcare seekers. Additionally, the recent government announcement to give visa on arrival for 150 countries will further give a boost to healthcare related travel.

While a lot looks positive some roadblocks may hinder the industry from reaching its full potential. One major concern that medical tourists voice is poor post treatment follow-ups and care. Also, few hospitals educate or address travel related complications that may arise from operations. Malpractice protection laws and legal framework in healthcare in the country do not meet international standards. Moreover, lack of health insurance portability may restrict patients from seeking care outside of their own country. Language barriers, cultural differences, insufficient information, travel barriers make adoption of medical tourism difficult.

By virtue of having multiple stakeholders, medical tourism is a complex industry. There are multiple cogs in the wheel that need to work in tandem for it to run smoothly. For India to emerge as a global leader it should focus on bringing these stakeholders on one page. All the players in the field from travel facilitators, tour operators, hospitals, healthcare professionals, insurance companies to government should co-ordinate and collaborate in order to bring seamless experience to the patients. Like the rest of healthcare, medical tourism is a team sport and bringing the team together is just step 1 towards success.

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