Saturday, 13 August 2011

Indian Medical Tourism: Next Big Success Story after Software


Medical tourism is a term initially coined by travel agencies and the mass media to describe the rapidly-growing practice of travelling across international borders to obtain health care. The first recorded instance of medical tourism dates back thousands of years to when Greek pilgrims traveled to the small territory in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria. Epidauria became the original travel destination for medical tourism.

In India, the history of medical tourism was also slowly unfolding with the popularity of yoga and Ayurvedic medicine. As early as 5000 years ago, constant streams of medical travelers and spiritual students flocked to India to seek the benefits of these alternative-healing methods. The Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Yoga, Panchakarma, Rejuvenation Therapy are among the most ancient systems of medical treatment of the world.

India has the golden opportunity to emerge as a leader in Medical Tourism, with advanced medical services. The country has developed, efficient and safe health services, and also has major tourist attractions, some of which are world renowned. According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and McKinsey study on healthcare, the medical tourism industry in India is poised to be the next big success story after software.

The medical tourism sector in India has attracted global attention, given its phenomenal growth in the past decade. India is second only to Thailand in the number of medical tourists that it attracts every year. Estimates indicate that the medical tourism market in India could grow from $310 million in 2005 to $2 billion by 2012. These figures are significant when contrasted with India's overall health care expenditure - $10 billion in the public sector and $50 billion in the private sector. Foreign patients coming to India are from neighbouring Asian countries and from Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, and increasingly from Africa. These are industry estimates, as the government does not have any official statistics.

India’s medical tourism sector is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 30% Advantages for medical tourists include reduced costs, the availability of latest medical technologies and a growing compliance on international quality standards, as well as the fact that foreigners are not likely to face a language barrier in India. The Indian government is taking steps to address infrastructure issues that hinder the country's growth in medical tourism.

The most popular treatments sought in India by medical tourists are alternative medicine, bone-marrow transplant, cardiac bypass surgery, eye surgery and orthopedic surgery. India is known in particular for heart surgery, hip resurfacing and other areas of advanced medicine.

The South Indian city of Chennai is considered to be the healthcare capital of India as it is home to some of India's best medical centers.

India is quickly becoming a hub for medical tourists seeking quality healthcare at an affordable cost. Nearly 450,000 foreigners sought medical treatment in India last year with Singapore not too far behind and Thailand in the lead with over a million medical tourists. As the Indian healthcare delivery system strives to match international standards the Indian healthcare industry will be able to tap into a substantial portion of the medical tourism market.

Advantages for medical tourists include reduced costs, the availability of latest medical technologies and a growing compliance on international quality standards, as well as the fact that foreigners are less likely to face a language barriers in India. The Indian government is taking steps to address infrastructure issues that hinder the country's growth in medical tourism.

Most estimates claim treatment costs in India start at around a tenth of the price of comparable treatment in America or Britain. The most popular treatments sought in India by medical tourists are alternative medicine, bone-marrow transplant, cardiac bypass, eye surgery and hip replacement. India is known in particular for heart surgery, hip resurfacing and other areas of advanced medicine.

Indian government introduced a medical visa (M visa) that is faster and easier to get than a normal tourism visa. But anyone coming in on an M visa has to physically go within 14 days of arrival to a local foreigners regional registration office-even if they have to be carried into India on a stretcher. So almost everyone is still using tourist visas.

Asia: Medical Tourism

Medical tourism is emerging as one of the fastest growing markets in Asia, with the rising number of foreign tourists going for treatment to the region. The report says that the medical tourism market has recorded a reasonable growth of around 11% since 2007 to reach US$ 3.8 billion income in 2008. Annual growth between 2009 and 2012 is predicted at 14%. The medical tourism industry in the region is growing at double-digit growth rate, outstripping the 4% to 6% growth in general travel bookings.

With various benefits such as low cost, world-class facilities and comparatively less waiting period, the medical tourism market in Asia is expected to reach US$ 5.4 billion in income by 2012.

Countries that are the most sought after destinations for the medical tourists arriving in Asia are - Malaysia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and South Korea. Thailand and Singapore are the leading destinations for medical tourism that together accounted for 64% of the total Asian medical tourism market in 2008. However the research says India will emerge as one of the fastest growing medical tourism countries, accounting for around 25% of the region’s medical tourism by 2012.

These countries offer various complex treatments at affordable costs. The cost of some highly sophisticated treatments such as hip replacement or heart valve replacement is 8-10 times lower in India and Thailand than in the United States.

Ethical Issues:

There can be major ethical issues around medical tourism. For example, the illegal purchase of organs and tissues for transplantation had been alleged in India.

Disadvantages:

Medical tourism carries some risks that locally-provided medical care does not. India has very different infectious disease-related epidemiology to Europe and North America. Exposure to diseases without having built up natural immunity can be a hazard for weakened individuals, specifically with respect to gastrointestinal diseases (e.g. Hepatitis A, amoebic dysentery, paratyphoid) which could weaken progress, mosquito-transmitted diseases, influenza, and tuberculosis.

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