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India's Medical Tourism Sector Keeps Growing

Posted on Sep 06, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

India's private healthcare industry, which features an abundance of specialist hospital facilities, an extensive network of healthcare providers and highly trained staff, has become one of the preeminent destinations for travelers seeking cost-effective medical treatment from all over the world, a practice widely known as medical tourism. According to a new study released by India's commerce chamber, the country's medical tourism sector will remain competitive amongst its South Asian rivals, attracting an increasing number of international clients and providing a considerable boost to the national economy. Last week, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) published a report titled 'Emerging Trends in Domestic Medical Tourism Sector,' which estimated that over 3.2 million medical tourists could arrive in India by 2015. Currently the country's private hospitals and specialist clinics are serving around 850,000 foreign patients annually, with a market valuation of Rs45 billion (US$980 million). India has been able to maintain a strategic advantage over its neighbors in providing essential resources like world-class medical technology, infrastructure and a skilled medical workforce. The country's leading private healthcare groups, including Fortis Healthcare and Apollo Hospitals, are expecting to nearly double their foreign patient intake in the next few years. Assocham calculated that if the country's medical tourism industry continues along at the current 40 percent compounded annual growth rate, the market would be worth around Rs108 billion (US$2.4 billion) by 2015 with an inflow of over 3 million health travelers. "The rapid growth will not only earn foreign exchange but will also give a huge boost to the country's health sector," the study claimed. According to Assocham, India's ability to quickly develop top-tier specialist healthcare facilities for in demand therapeutic sectors like cardiology, joint replacement, orthopedic surgery, organ transplants and more, has been a critical in attracting foreign patients. The industry's ability to keep treatment prices low across the board has enabled Indian hospitals to target a wide spectrum of international clientele from all corners of the world. A hip replacement in India costs on average only around US$9,000 versus US$43,000 in the United States (without insurance) or US$12,000 in Singapore. The largest proportion of medical tourists choosing India as their destination are coming from the Middle East, followed by Americans, Western Europeans and then citizens from nearby countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and others. D.S. Rawat, Secretary General of Assocham, confirmed that the prevailing high cost of medical treatment in other industrialized countries was encouraging more people to consider cost-effective alternative destinations for care. "High quality medical care at a fraction of a price people would traditionally pay in developed countries is the basic reason behind this surge in number of patients flocking to India for treatment purposes," Rawat remarked. The Assocham report identifies the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and New Delhi as the key emerging medical destinations in India, each with a sufficient number of private hospitals and clinics that target medical tourists. Cosmetic procedures such as facelifts, botox treatment, tummy tucks, eye and dental care have so far proven the most sought after treatments by foreign patients. Furthermore, the availability of distinctive holistic medicinal services in India, such as yoga, meditation, ayurveda and allopathy, present further treatment and tourist opportunities that are difficult to match in other countries. Ayurveda and spa tourism have become increasingly popular among both domestic travelers and foreign tourists as people look towards natural systems of treatments instead of conventional medical procedures for certain ailments. The western states of Goa, Kerala, and Rajasthan have emerged as the most popular destination for ayurveda and spa treatment resources. India's healthcare providers however cannot afford to rest on their laurels as they will soon face tough competition for medical tourists internationally. National governments and private companies in other South Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, have been quick to recognize this lucrative marketplace and have been investing heavily in their healthcare infrastructure to meet the global demand for quality-assured medical care together with highly trained medical specialists and the latest advancements in medical technology. Countries such as Taiwan and South Korea are not far behind and have also taken measures recently to improve their performance in the international private healthcare market. Assocham also warns that countries further a field such as Australia, Belgium, Cuba, Costa Rica, Hungary, Greece, Poland and South Africa are also working hard to promote their healthcare facilities worldwide and could pose a threat to their client base in the long term. In order to combat intense competition from other countries and maintain India's preeminent position in the world medical tourism market, Assocham has proposed developing 10 dedicated public-private 'health cities' throughout the country to both increase operational capacity for patients and encourage high-caliber healthcare professionals to work in the system. "This will not only help India secure a bigger share of the market but will also encourage reverse brain drain by attracting non-resident Indian doctors and experts settled abroad," D.S. Rawat explained. India's commerce chamber further argued that both central and state governments would need to play an active role in promoting the country's medical tourism facilities abroad and to ultimately help construct and invest in these facilities. While similarly ambitious proposals for medical cities have been made before, Assocham hope the numbers presented in their report could finally push both the government and private investors into action. Companies Mentioned Fortis Healthcare Fortis Healthcare Fortis Healthcare Limited, founded in 1999, is a leading healthcare provider with a network of 46 hospitals, satellite centers and heart command centers in India. The company also offers diagnostic, travel, IT and financial services through it's' wholly owned operation Religare Enterprises Limited. Apollo Hospitals Group Apollo Hospitals Apollo Hospitals is the largest healthcare provider in Asia, third largest in the world. The company operates 53 hospitals, a total capacity of 8500 beds, across Asia. The company also offers medical consultancy and pharmacy services. Apollo Hospitals was founded in 1983 and is based in Chennai, India
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