India Report

India makes its mark on the global medical tourism map


More than 50 countries have identified medical tourism as a national industry. Many hospitals in these countries have established international patient services departments in an effort to facilitate medical tourism and attract foreign patients to their facilities, thus securing additional and often lucrative income. Middle East Health travelled to India to speak to some of the country’s leading doctors and visit the hospitals they work in.

By definition medical tourism is an opportunity for patients to travel for medical care and take advantage of reduced costs, improved wait times and superior quality healthcare. The ease of international travel has also helped.

Realising the benefits this can have on the national economy governments in some of these countries have stepped into the fray to facilitate medical tourism by easing visa restrictions for this category of tourist as well as promoting the industry through various marketing events.

Services typically sought by travellers include elective procedures as well as complex specialised surgeries, such as joint replacement (knee/hip), cardiac surgery, dental surgery, and cosmetic surgeries. Individuals with rare genetic disorders may travel to another country where treatment of these conditions is better understood. However, virtually every type of health care, including psychiatry, alternative treatments, convalescent care and even burial services are available.

In India medical tourism is growing rapidly due to the attractive costs for medical procedures and the advanced medical technologies available at the hospitals treating foreign patients. Other attractions include an increasing compliance with international quality standards, such as Joint Commission International accreditation, and the fact that English is widely spoken by doctors and nurses.

According to a report in The Times of India, the government is taking steps to address infrastructure issues that hinder the country’s growth in medical tourism. The government has also removed visa restrictions on tourist visas that required a twomonth gap between consecutive visits for people from Gulf countries which is likely to boost medical tourism. A visa-on-arrival scheme for tourists from select countries has been instituted which allows foreign nationals to stay in India for 30 days for medical reasons.

Dr Ullas Pandurangi, cardiologist was quoted in a Times of India report as saying: “The easing of visa norms is a welcome move as patients can meet the doctors, go back and discuss the details with their families, and return for the procedure. Earlier, most of these discussions took place over email or through intermediaries. There is nothing like a patient visiting the doctor personally.”

Mallika Mohandas, of MIOT hospitals, told the newspaper: “Though most patients come on medical visas, the easing of restrictions on tourist visas will help patients’ relatives.”

A report on Al Jazeera points out that 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.


The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India says India’s medical tourism sector is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 30%, making it a US$2 billion (Rs9,500 crore) industry by 2015. This is being driven by rising costs for medical treatment in the West as patients and insurance companies in the US and Europe seek cheaper options.

Key hospitals associated with medical tourism in India include: Wockhardt, several hosptals in the Fortis group, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Miot Hospital, Global Hospitals, Manipal Hospital and Narayana Hrudayalaya among others.

Chennai, the health capital

The city of Chennai (formerly Madras) is known as ‘India’s health capital’. It has a long history associated with medicine. For example, Madras Medical College was set up in 1835, making it one the oldest colleges of European medicine in Asia.

According to The Hindu, hospitals across the city bring in an estimated 150 international patients every day to Chennai. The city has an estimated 12,500 hospital beds, of which only half is used by the city’s population with the rest being shared by patients from other Indian states and foreigners.

Medical tourism is not new here. Even before the term had been coined and even before the advent of corporate hospitals – a phenomenon that began with the establishment of Apollo Hospital in 1983 – patients flocked here from across the country, says the report.

Dr P.V.A. Mohandas, founder and managing director of MIOT Hospitals, is quoted as saying: “I remember, when I was a medical student, patients came to the GH (Government Hospital) from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and parts of Orissa too. They arrived in train-loads at Central Station – all to seek the expertise of doctors in Madras.

Although the scope of Chennai’s medical tourism has changed – MIOT hospitals attracts patients from around the world and many from the region including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan – the faith patients place in the doctors of Chennai has not. And it is this constant that is far more powerful than any marketing campaign because it has resulted in the spread of the city’s medical expertise through word of mouth, according to doctors working in the city.

The Times of India reports that at least 15 people from Gulf countries land in Chennai every day for medical treatment.

Arab patients feel at home here as a number of restaurants serve their food here. One outlet on Greams Road also delivers Arab-style food to hospitals across the city. With the easing of restrictions, the hospitality and food sector will also benefit, the newspaper says.

Combining treatment with travel opens up the opportunity to do some sightseeing for the patient and accompanying relatives. In this regard India is a particularly attractive destination, providing a wealth of tour opportunities including the famous Taj Mahal, the magnificent forts of Rajastan, the back waters of Kerala and the beautiful beaches of Goa, to name just a few.

Why seek treatment in India?   

The Indian ministry of tourism outlines the following reasons for foreign patients to seek treatment in India.

- Low cost – even the most budget-conscious medical tourist can afford first-rate service and luxury amenities

- Most of the doctors and surgeons at Indian hospitals are trained or have worked at some of the medical institutions in the US, Europe, or other developed nations.

- Most doctors and nurses are fluent in English.

- Top-of-the-line medical and diagnostic equipment from global international
conglomerates is available at many Indian hospitals.

- Indian nurses are among the best in the world. Nearly 1000 recognized
nurse-training centres in India, mostly attached to teaching hospitals, graduate
nearly 10,000 nurses annually.

The procedure for seeking medical treatment at a foreign hospital

The typical process is as follows: the person seeking medical treatment abroad contacts a medical tourism provider. The provider usually requires the patient to provide a medical report, including the nature of ailment, local doctor’s opinion, medical history, and diagnosis, and may request additional information. Certified physicians or consultants then advise on the medical treatment. The approximate expenditure, choice of hospitals and tourist destinations, and duration of stay, etc., is discussed. After signing consent bonds and agreements, the patient is given recommendation letters for a medical visa, to be procured from the concerned embassy. The patient travels to the destination country, where the medical tourism provider assigns a case executive, who takes care of the patient’s accommodation, treatment and any other form of care. Once the treatment is done, the patient can remain in the tourist destination or return home.

 Date of upload: 18th Jul 2013


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