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Doubling medical tourism

Medical tourism in India will double by 2021 predicts investment company ICRA. Increased interest from developing economies coinciding with the comparatively low cost of medical treatments in India has been a boon to outlooks of economic growth in the area.

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Medical tourism is looking to become a major part of the Indian economy

Medical treatments are calculated to be, on average, 60 to 90 percent cheaper in India compared to the same treatments in the USA. This has resulted in international patients flocking to India, with growth in the sector at 20 percent over the last three years.

This growth has been attributed to more relaxed regulations put in place by the Indian government. The allowance of 60 day visas, replacing the past 30 day visas, as well as the triple entry replacing single entry has meant far more people visit on a medical visa, and for longer periods of treatment.

Publicity may also be playing a role in the sectors financial success. Recent reports of a hospital in Mumbai undertaking the treatment and surgery of the world’s heaviest woman have made international headlines. This has brought the Indian medical tourism industry international attention.

The phenomenon of medical tourism to India is not a recent one, and those seeking treatment are by no means limited to those from developing nations. In 2010 reports emerged that experts in the UK considered the possibility of moving patients of the state-run National Health Service (NHS) to India for surgery. This was seen as a possibility to reduce costs and increase the speed of procedures to reduce the substantial waiting list for operations such as hip replacement.

The implication is that not only does the industry have the interest of individual patients, typically from the middle class of developing nations, but also the potential of government institutions investing in the system from first world countries. Should this possibly large amount of revenue be catered for, it could provide a massive boost to the Indian medical system as a whole.

Revenue per bed was shown to have increased. Based on the ICRA survey revenue per bed increased 37 percent, to Rs 30,504. The only issue with this increase is the creation of a financial incentive to prioritise medical tourists over Indian patients. There is a great potential in the increased revenue to provide money to hospitals to expand their facilities and the number of beds. This would benefit locals as well as the medical tourists. Though alternatively without any expansion this could alienate the local population in favour of the higher paying tourists.

Shubham Jain, Vice-President and Sector-Head, Corporate Ratings, ICRA, gives his opinion on the recent study: “On the supply side, India currently faces a significant shortage of beds and limited Government investments. This provides private sector players with an opportunity to step in to fill the gap. On the demand and affordability side, rising healthcare awareness, a large population, increase in the number of lifestyle diseases, higher medical insurance penetration and better affordability are likely to push the demand for the healthcare services.”

It is largely the private hospitals picking up on the profits from medical tourism, with many hospitals adding luxury facilities in attempts to lure high paying patients. For the poor that are reliant on government hospitals, the increased profits translating into higher hospital budgets may not provide any real difference in medical care. Similarly those in rural areas are unlikely to note any change, as the trend in medical tourism is almost entirely located in urban metros.

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