Sumedha Sen, CEO of EPOS Health Management, gives us an insight into the scope of the growing medical tourism industry in India.
Q. What has been the real term growth of international medical tourism industry in India over last 3 years? How much has been achieved on ground as compared to industry projections about this market segment?
A. MedicalValue Travel is growing in India at15% p.a. The initial projections in the CII-McKinsey report were of USD 2.2 billion. While we are far from anywhere near there, it gave the directions to Indian Hospitals of chasing this market. However, it should also be noted that the Health Industry cannot service this market alone- communication facilities; the immigration policies; civic amenities and now the “unstable situation for tourists” directly affect this market entering our country.
Q. What was the approximate number of international patients who came to India in 2008? What is the geographical spread of these patients and what is the estimated revenue that would have been generated?
A. We do not have any confirmed reports on numbers and revenue however, estimates hover between 1,80,000 – 2,20,000 arrivals to India primarily from SAARC, Middle East and Africa. Patients also come from the CIS and South Pacific Region. There is a growing trend emerging from the US and Canada besides the UK. Revenue generation is also approximated at USD 450 million. The persons coming to India to avail of the Herbal and Spa facilities should not be accounted for in this estimate.
Q. Which medical procedures are most commonly availed by international patients coming to Indian hospitals? Is there any pattern and/or linkage between the geographical origin of patients and the medical services that they avail?
A. Countries with little or no convincing Health Infrastructure avail the services of all hi-end tertiary care services of Indian hospitals- Cardiac, Renal, Neuro Sciences, BMT, Stem Cell, Liver transplants, etc. From the developed world it is more for Cosmetics, Dental followed by Orthopaedics, Gastric Bypass, over and above the above mentioned specialties. It would be a matter of interest to know that people who come out of their country to avail of hi end Health Care services choose India. Such persons are not tourists and more often than not, they do not combine Healthcare with tourism.
Q. Lack of international coverage by insurers in the West is often attributed as a bottleneck in the growth of global medical tourism. However, rising healthcare cost is making it increasingly economical for insurers to cover expenses in cheaper overseas destination. How do you see developments happening at this front in western markets?
A. Quite so… Already the top International Insurance companies are working with Indian Hospitals for their expat and travel Insurance members. This was the first step of recognising Indian Hospitals. Earlier the same were sent to Singapore, Thailand.
It has been observed this year that many International Insurance Companies are seriously mulling at the options of offering their members the options of traveling abroad for treatment to destinations like India which offer high quality treatment at affordable costs. This is going to gain momentum in the coming years.
Q. How do medico-legal issues and regulatory constraints pose challenge for patients seeking treatment in foreign shores? Are there substantial steps and measures taken by international healthcare associations and governments to make things easier?
A. All countries which offers medical treatment to health travelers puts it upfront that the law of the land will prevail. Health travelers who are looking abroad for treatment do know the risk elements involved in going abroad. This is where the associations from the government for ‘treatment visa’ communication and carrier organisations for cheaper transportation fares should be introduced for follow up visits. We also feel that the medical fraternity from these countries should play a part of follow up treatment in terms of post op clinical care. Many doctors from Africa and SAARC countries have begun taking training in these specialties and attending CME’s to keep themselves abreast of the technological advances made in this area. The patient’s should be recommended by their physicians for hi-end treatment and the treating hospital should refer back the patient to the respective physician for after care. Another factor is selecting the right kind of provider for a particular procedure. Price war should not effect making the correct choice. However, risk factor exists in every medical practice and cannot be discounted.
Q. What special services and privileges can Indian healthcare providers offer for attracting more international patients in the country?
A. Reputed hospitals have created special departments to handle International Patients. The services offered are:
- Airport transfer service
- Scheduling of all medical appointments
- Coordination of the admission process
- Cost estimates for anticipated treatment
- Processing of medical second opinions
- Booking of hotel/service apartments
- Flight arrangements & extensions /Visa assistance
- Provide language interpreters
- Special dietary needs / religious arrangements
- Local sightseeing
- Foreign exchange
- Remote consultations via Telemedicine
- Providing news & information of patient’s relatives back home.
Price transparency is another element which needs to be provided as this is observed as the single most worrying factor when patients travel abroad for treatment. Building of Indian healthcare brands in key international markets will be an important factor in attracting patients from abroad.
Q. How does EPOS Health India plan to contribute in the growth of Indian healthcare industry? What expertise and skills does EPOS brings to table for stakeholders?
A. EPOS is a leading multi dimensional resource organisation for health care service providers and has over the last two decades extended its expertise and know-how to clients in nearly 75 countries and has successfully completed over 280 assignments. EPOS aims at contributing to the growth of the health care industry through providing national and international expertise in areas related to hospital design and planning, hospital systems strengthening, quality management systems and accreditation, professional management support for hospitals, industry-partnered cutting-edge skills development programmes, designing and facilitating public private partnerships, turnkey management of health tourism services.