Medical tourism is described as any activity that involves a foreign visitor traveling and spending at least one night at the destination to rejuvenate, restore, or maintain health through medical intervention. Since the last decade of the 20th century, India has emerged as a global leader in the medical tourism sector. Read here to learn about the growth of medical tourism in India.
Over the past decade, India has gained a reputation for providing high-quality medical service at low costs to medical tourists traveling from across the globe.
However, with the travel bans during the covid-19 pandemic, the influx of medical tourists had dipped. According to the Tourism Ministry, India registered a negative growth of 79.4% in 2020.
Although, the situation looks positive once more owing to the efforts made to handle the pandemic situation. Market insights suggest the demand forecast to increase at a robust 19 % CAGR in 2022.
Medical tourism in India
India’s healthcare industry offers a combination of both modern and traditional forms of medicine which sets the country apart from others.
- First, it has a set of world-class doctors and hospitals that provide treatment at fractional rates when compared to other countries.
- Secondly, India’s systems of medicine: AYUSH i.e., Ayurveda, Yoga, Panchakarma, Rejuvenation Therapy, etc, which are the most ancient forms of medicine, are now gaining immense popularity globally.
The government also recently announced plans to launch an AYUSH Mark which is a mark to provide credibility to AYUSH products in India and promote India’s medical tourism sector.
Additionally, the other medical services and facilities are also backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA).
India’s healthcare industry has advanced significantly over the past 30 years, as seen by the notable accomplishments it has made.
- One of the industries that have contributed the most to revenue and are expanding quickly is healthcare.
- Both public and private providers support the healthcare industry. Over the past few years, national health policies have been crucial in establishing a more inclusive healthcare system to achieve structured Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
- In addition, India provides less expensive treatment alternatives than the US and the UK without sacrificing the standard of healthcare. About one-fourth, less is spent on therapy in India than it is in the United States.
In terms of alternate medical treatment, the Indian medical treatment systems of yoga, ayurveda, rejuvenation therapy, and panchakarma are among the most ancient methods of medical treatment in the world.
The southern state of Kerala has developed medical tourism services as one of its core products for promoting tourism in the region.
Based on the Medical Tourism Index 2020-21, India is ranked 10th out of the top 46 countries, 12th out of the world’s top 20 wellness tourism markets, and 5th out of 10 wellness tourism destinations in Asia-Pacific.
- India boasts 39 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited and 657 National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) accredited hospitals.
India holds an advantage as a medical tourism destination due to the following factors:
- 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 nurses-training centers in India, mostly attached to teaching hospitals, graduate nearly 10,000 nurses annually.
- Even the most budget-conscious traveler can afford first-rate service and luxury amenities
Most of the tourists are from Asian or African countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Indonesia, and Kenya, among others.
Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, and Bengaluru are the top 5 medical tourism destinations in India.
Wellness Tourism includes travel for a less stressful lifestyle, promoting a healthier, and finding balance in one’s life.
Ayurveda, Yoga, meditation, Panchakarma, and Rejuvenation Therapy are among the most ancient systems of medical treatment in India and the best way to promote Wellness Tourism.
The Ministry of Tourism has drafted guidelines for wellness tourism. These guidelines address issues regarding making available quality publicity material, training and capacity building for the service providers, participation in international & domestic Wellness related events, etc.
Mushrooming of wellness centers in the country has given rise to the concern for quality service.
- The Guideline for the Accreditation of wellness centers has been developed by National Board for Accreditation of Hospitals & Healthcare Services (NABH) in consultation with AYUSH and released during the workshop on wellness tourism organized by the Ministry of Tourism in 2011.
The Ministry of Tourism has also extended its Market Development Assistance (MDA) scheme to wellness tourism service providers including accredited wellness centers.
Impact of Covid-19 on medical tourism
Planned hospital operations decreased by as much as 80% during the state-wide lockdown in India caused by the new coronavirus outbreak, while unplanned systems decreased by 66%.
With the government of India’s assistance, the healthcare sector launched a comprehensive response strategy to combat the epidemic.
- Specialized COVID-19 hospitals and isolation facilities were established, and resource mapping using technology was started.
- The Indian government created several programs and used technology to combat the pandemic.
- The Aarogya Setu app was utilized across the nation to improve contact tracing, syndromic mapping, and infection self-evaluation.
- India not only met its own needs but also stepped up to help other nations during these difficult times.
Despite having several initiatives in place, the Medical Tourism industry of the country still faces some serious challenges.
- One of the major challenges that India is facing is promoting and creating awareness about state-of-the-art facilities in India.
- India is witnessing strong competition from destinations like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, and South Korea with low-cost options.
- In India, there is a lack of cohesiveness amongst the major players in the industry to come together and represent India on a world platform to acquire newer customers.
- Apart from these, inconsistent fee structure and lack of transparency in billing to foreign patients, and absurdly high margins to trade to refer patients are some of the challenges.
- Most Indian hospitals are also facing a lack of trust from foreign patients. The hospitals have observed poor hygiene awareness in medical attendants, unhygienic food handling, and lack of good hospitality services, heterogeneous pricing of services, and industry standards.
The government can play a vital part to upgrade the medical tourism sector. But the industry is facing the following problems which are caused by the governments. They are:
- no regulations
- taxation anomalies
- bureaucratic roadblocks
- no work on land reforms
- lack of long-term investor-friendly policies
- instability concerning terrorism and communal tensions.
On the part of insurance and allied services, the medical tourism industry in India is also facing some key bottlenecks. They are:
- inadequate insurance cover
- the underdeveloped insurance market in India
- insurance frauds
- overseas companies refusing reimbursement.
The following challenges, due to the infrastructural parts of the medical tourism sector in India, are:
- lack of access
- dearth of capital
- Lack of community participation and awareness
- Non-participation in the rural sector
- lack of concern for sustainability
- complex visa procedures
- lack of good language translators
- airport facilities still being inadequate
Government initiatives for medical tourism
The government has implemented various initiatives to overcome the challenges and push India’s rise as a hub of medical tourism through the promotion of ayurveda, yoga, and other Indian systems of medicine in the international market.
Heal India Initiative:
- Heal in India is a new initiative developed under Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission in which there will be healthcare professionals, and hospital services to help patients seeking medical help in India.
- With this type of initiative, Government aims at promoting Medical Tourism in India via Heal in India Portal.
- It’s another Programme called Heal by India Government that aims to encourage Indian Health care Workers to go abroad and serve patients globally.
Market Development Assistance (MDA) scheme
- The Ministry of Tourism has also extended its Market Development Assistance (MDA) scheme to wellness tourism service providers including accredited wellness centers.
- MDA scheme offers financial assistance to approved tourism service providers.
Medical Visa provisions
- Special provision has been made for tourists traveling to India for healthcare purposes.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has introduced a new category of visa, Medical Visa, that can be issued to foreigners traveling to India for healthcare reasons.
Setting up a feedback mechanism to obtain testimonials from tourists traveling to the country for medical purposes.
- This ‘one-step’ portal would add convenience and provide credible information for medical tourists coming to India.
To become the top-most medical travel destination, there is a need for significant investments into making the healthcare industry and equipment attractive for international patients.
- Patients spend most of their time in guest houses and are prone to further infections from such places.
- Thus, proper infrastructure and standardization need to be brought into the tourism industry and the nexus of guest house service providers urgently.
- Another aspect that needs to be tapped into is the opportunity for selling Indian health insurance to foreigners. This can generate an additional $9 billion in patient inflow to India.
The government is pulling out all its aces to maximize the industry’s potential. The aim is to make India the No.1 Destination for Medical Tourism in the world, tripling its revenue to $13 billion within 4 years.
The government has also proposed an outlay of US$ 28.7 billion for health and well-being, which is 137% higher than the previous year’s budget outlay.
In the post-Covid world, the demand for the healthcare industry is bound to surge and there is a huge potential for India to realize and aggressively advance towards attracting medical tourists from other parts of the world including Europe and the Americas.
With the government making it their priority to make India the hub of medical tourism, the initiatives combined with the surging demand are sure to make India the center for all medical tourists in the future.
-Article written by Swathi Satish