Gujarat has evolved as one of the most preferred medical destinations for international as well as domestic patients, Nikita Apraj, ENN analyses the healthcare boom
Gujarat has been in a limelight for its stupendous development in various sectors–infrastructure, industry, agriculture – to note a few. Healthcare sector in Gujarat has also joined the club, given to rise in medical tourism and government initiatives
India’s medical tourism sector is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 30 percent, making it a US$ 2 billion industry by 2015. 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 barrier in India.
Ahmadabad is one of the most preferred destinations for medical tourism in the country given economic stability, industrial and agricultural development state of Gujarat. Other cities in the state like capital Gandhinagar has also become one of the most favored medical destinations for both Indian and foreign patients.
Medical tourism is divided into two categories – Domestic medical tourism in which patients travel within cities or states to seek better healthcare and second one is international medical tourism. In-ternational medical patients can be divided into two subsets – Non Resident Gujaratis, a subset specific to Gujarat, who want to be treated in or around their native place. Another subset is of truly international patients who come to India for a costeffective treatment.
Over the time, Gujarat has build capabilities within the state reducing number of patients going outside Gujarat for treatment to negligible. Ahmadabad is one of the most preferred destinations for medical tourism in the country. Ahmadabad is one of the most preferred destinations for medical tourism in the country
Gujarat preferred by foreigners
“International patients come to India to be treated for old problems, not for acute problems because they won’t be able to reach here for acute problems. Majority of patients arrive for joint replacement, spine surgeries, mental treatment, cosmetic surgeries, and hair transplantation,” Dr Vikram Shah, MD, Shalby Hospitals says. While these patients are being treated in the hospital, their relatives are free roaming various departments in the hospital. So they utilise their free time to get treatments done – like cosmetic surgeries, dental treatments.
“It’s like pilgrimage; they would visit every small temple!” Dr Shah adds on a lighter note. Shalby Hospitals, a leading hospital chain in the state can be said to the pioneer in the medical tourism in India. Shalby Hospitals entered medical tourism almost 15 years ago. Patients from across Africa, England, Canada and US come to Shalby to get their treatment done.
Preferred by Indians as well
Medical tourism has given a significant impetus to Indian healthcare. In coming years, medical travel is expected to be growing. International medical tourism is more glamorous and often gets more limelight as compared to domestic medical tourism. However, both kind of medical tourism play a significant role in the success of a hospital.
“We found success in internal medical travel but we get patients from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and from Maharashtra as well. We have been able to build that kind of brand equity across India. That plays an important part in medical tourism,” says Dr Rajiv Sharma, CEO, Sterling Hospitals. He feels ‘medical tourism’ is not a proper phrase. “I would rather say medical travel. Nobody travels for fun, in case of medical condition,” he explains. Sterling Hospital, a major chain of hospitals in Gujarat receives international patients mainly from African countries like Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania. Most of these patients come for high-end tertiary care and treatment.
Building bridge between patients and doctors
Besides hospitals, there are several companies that help international medical tourism by attracting patients from developing countries. Me-disoft Telemedicine of Ahmadabad is one of these medical tourism companies that advise and help international patients during their stay in India. Devendra Patel, MD, Medisoft Telemedicine who also runs a telemedicine company explains the genesis of the company.
A telemedicine client in Africa requested Devendra Patel for an opinion of an Indian doctor in a particular case. Through his contacts, he provided the client an opinion of an Indian doctor free of cost by means of teleconferencing. The client got much
impressed by the quality of knowledge of the doctor and some of his patients actually flew all the way from Africa to India for their treatment. Then request came from the Indian doctors to help them with legal formalities, foreign regional registration
and other things like accommodation of these patients. That was how the company was born.
“We get patients mainly from Asian countries, Gulf countries and countries in Africa. Telemedicine is one of the ways to market our medical tourism services. We act as a bridge between international patients and Indian doctors and hospitals. We are a facilitator where we provide pick-up from the airport, hotel accommodation, physical consultation and other support. Our person is always there to help the patients and their relatives. We also help them in following-up the case as doctors may not always be able to reply quickly to patient queries. We help the patients get their queries answered. We take care of our patient-clients just like their relatives in their resident country would have. We have associations with hospitals for international medical tourism,” Devendra Patel explains the procedure in detail.
“Healthcare in Gujarat is becoming more structured and it will become more so in coming future. Dr Rajiv Sharma, CEO, Sterling Hospitals
Policy and regulations
The Government of India is taking steps to address infrastructure issues that hinder the country’s growth in medical tourism. The government has removed visa restrictions on tourist visas that required a two-month gap between consecutive visits for people from Gulf countries which is likely to boost medical tourism. A number of hospitals in Gujarat have hired translators for African and Gulf languages to make patients from Gulf and African countries feel more comfortable while at the same time helping in the facilitation of their treatment.
Though this has certainly helped medical tourism, hospitals still express disconcert over the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO) process. Patients coming from countries other than India are required to complete FRRO norms within 14 days of their arrival in the country. The norms require personal presence of the person for registration and involve many formalities and tedious paperwork. Given the condition of the patient, it could prove to be a very painful experience. It also portrays a negative image of the country.
“International patients come to India to be treated for old problem, not for acute problem.”Dr Vikram Shah, Founder Chairman & MD, Shalby Hospitals
Image is important
Image of the country plays an important role in patient’s decision of choosing a destination for his treatment. International patients first choose a country depending upon their budget and more importantly, quality of healthcare infrastructure in the country. Then they choose a state and then a city where they want to be treated. So, image of a state as well as a city, local policies and regulations, transport infrastructure in the city – whether or not the city has any international airport, image of the city – crime rate, experience of other patients, social milieu are all become deciding factors in patients choice. Any sort of regulation that directly or indirectly affects travel will affect international medical travel as well.
Organizations like CII and FICCI organise regular events in these target countries and encourage delegations from these countries to come and see the facilities that we have. We ourselves have received several delegations from countries like Kenya and Tanzania in the past. Government intervention or regulatory intervention is critical for growth. “When these patients arrive in the city, we have to notify to the police. Things like their safety and security, stay and accommodation which may seem very minor for a person in India but are very important for a person coming from out of India,” Dr Sharma adds.
Majority of experts agree on the statement that international medical tourism in India will flourish. Central and state government has realised importance of medical tourism and he role it can play in the growth of economy. Talking about government support to promote medical tourism in India in countries abroad, Dr Sharma says, government is trying well to sell India and medical excellence in India.
Development of healthcare in Gujarat
Development in medical infrastructure and easily accessible healthcare facilities has remarkably improved the health index of the population in Gujarat over the last few years. Well developed ports, roads, airports, rails are also said to be responsible factors.
Today Gujarat has made a rapid progression to the state-of-the-art tertiary care corporate hospitals getting established in major as well as two and three tier cities. Changing mindset of the patients who have become quality conscious and more aware of their healthcare needs can be listed as one he reasons behind this rapid progression. Besides, growing per capita income and want of specialised and sophisticated healthcare has given further impetus to this healthcare boom.
Central and state Government has realised importance of medical tourism and the role it can play in the growth of economy
Experts agree that healthcare in Gujarat is evolving fast. Earlier most of the patients from Gujarat used to go to Mumbai and metro cities for treatment. Over the time, Gujarat has been able to build capabilities within the state reducing number of patients going outside Gujarat for treatment to negligible. “Healthcare in Gujarat is becoming more structured and it will become more so in coming future. I am sure we are looking at a very bright future as far as healthcare delivery in Gujarat is concerned,” says Dr Sharma.
Internal medical travel from Gujarat has diminished. Ahmadabad is now recognised as a city that can provide best-in-class healthcare delivery. That is a reason there are many patients coming to the city from Rajasthan, which is not as developed as Gujarat in terms of healthcare and medical infrastructure. “Gujarat has a good healthcare system. Government of Gujarat is very supportive; things move fast when it comes to hospitals or healthcare-related issues,” Dr Shah says.
“We take care of our patient-clients just like their relatives would have” Devendra Patel, Director, Medisoft Telemedicine
Expanding for better
Major corporate hospital groups such as Sterling, Shalby Hospitals, CIMS, Apollo and Wockhardt have made significant investments in setting up state-of-the-art hospitals in major cities of Gujarat. The other major private players in the state are.
Expansion is happening not only in terms of beds, but also in terms of super specialties. As Dr Sharma informs, Sterling Hospitals has won the crown of being the only hospital in Gujarat to have achieved ability to perform functional neurosurgery. The hospital recently performed a successful surgery for Writer’s Cramp, achieving the title of being the first hospital in India and one of the few hospitals across the world to perform this surgery.
Sterling Hospitals is planning on expanding its facilities to Surat. Shalby Hospitals is coming up with two new hospitals – one will be in Indore, Madhya Pradesh and another will be in Naroda, Gujarat. Each will be a 250-bed hospital, together expanding capacity of Shalby Hospitals by 500 beds.