Who could have guessed ten years ago that India would grow into one of the world’s most important destinations for health travelers? Driven by a surging economy, a surplus of well-trained healthcare practitioners, low infrastructure costs and a proven national penchant for international outsourcing of customer service, India is now the world’s value leader for the international cost-conscious medical traveler.
Patients willing to undergo some of India’s cultural challenges will realize savings of up to 85% on high-acuity procedures such as heart and joint work. Serving more than 250,000 international patients annually, the vast subcontinent welcomes international medical travelers in several large metro areas: Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi.
Unlike its Asian counterparts, which have traditionally encouraged medical travel by aggressively recruiting top-of-the-line physicians from other countries, India produces some of the world’s finest physicians and surgeons internally, with excellent in-country teaching hospitals and research centers. (Tens of thousands of Indian physicians have joined hospitals outside their homeland. At last count some 35,000 Indian specialists practice in the US alone—and more than one in six US surgeons is of Indian descent!)
India clearly has a two-tier health delivery system. Because of the country’s wide-spread poverty, the Indian public healthcare system offers medical care to the poor at little or no cost. Few in India can afford the “big surgeries” and elective treatments that attract foreign patients. The good news is that large, private hospitals are plowing profits from their international business into improved healthcare services for the indigent.
India and Medical Travel
Despite—or because of—the global economic downturn, India’s medical travel industry is clipping along at a 30 percent growth rate annually. India welcomes most of its cross-border travelers from the immediate region (e.g. Bangladesh, the Turkic States, the Middle East and East Africa). However, some of those gains have arisen from increasing numbers of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans seeking treatment, particularly the more expensive cardiac and orthopedic surgeries, for which health travelers can save tens of thousands of dollars compared to the cost of treatment at home.
India’s official national health policy encourages medical travel as part of its economy’s “export” activities, although the services are performed within India. The government uses revenues generated from medical travel to increase its holdings in foreign currency. With government and corporate investment solidly behind its healthcare system, more international hospitals and super-specialty centers are opening every year.
Heart care has become a specialty in India, with centers such as Fortis Wockhardt (Mumbai), Apollo (New Delhi and Chennai), and the Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (Chennai) leading the way. Success and morbidity rates are on par with those found in the US and Europe, with major surgeries at up to 15 percent of the cost.
In 2012, India’s JCI-accredited hospitals numbered 17, up from only two in 2005.
Last updated on 9 March 2013