Saturday, June 28, 2008

Health Economics- Medical tourism,the new rage in India

Fact of the day:  According to the Ayurvedavatarana (the "descent of Ayurveda"), ayurveda first came into being when the Hindu deity Brahma had a revelation,after which he woke up and created the Universe.

I thought we should have something lighter than Liquidation for a lazy Sunday afternoon brunch.So here goes a late Saturday night post for a late Sunday morning read.

Medical tourism - the phenomenon in which hospitals in emerging markets offer "sun, sand and surgery" at low prices to patients from North America and Europe - is gaining in popularity. While India lags behind countries like Thailand as a result of airport infrastructure and other bottlenecks, health care providers such as Apollo Hospitals are expanding at 10% a year.

India especially seems to be a hot spot for medical tourism due to the following reasons-
  • Hospitals in India cost up to 5 times cheaper for North-Americans and up to 3 times as cheaper for affluent South Asians such as Singaporeans.
  • India as such is a popular tourist destination.It is as diverse as an entire continent (be it in terms of climate,landscapes,languages,food,culture or religion) and lighter on the pocket than most!
  • It offers several traditional and authentic forms of medicine and cure such as ayurveda.
  • We have several Indians as practicing doctors in the west .Westeners have on that count some familiarity and association with Indian doctors. 

India therefore stands out as a complete package,seemingly perfect. Then,what is it that keeps countries such as Thailand(otherwise only associated with piracy and fraud) ahead of India?
  • There are staggering delays at every stage of entering India-long queues at the customs counter,flight delays,lack of flights(only about 15 international flights a day) and other handicaps such as inhospitality and crude conditions(corruption,an alien Indian typical culture and mindset)
  • Compare this with Thailand,where tourism is already a major sector(earns the country it's daily bread and butter) and passage to and through the country is smooth. Over 250 international flights operate daily to the country's capital,Bangkok.
  • Legal bottlenecks-a lack of trained and educated manpower,leaves a large cavity to be filled . Medicine is becoming increasingly unpopular among students. Lack of colleges and seats in medicine gives further incentive to students for opting other courses over medicine. Lack of manpower(handicap,unable to cope with the demand) at hospitals makes it a hassle for foreign clients to obtain an appointment from long distance.

Needless to say there is tremendous potential for medical tourism in India. Here's how the situation could and can be improved-
  • Government assistance: Offer complete packages, authorised by the govt. This package should cover both tourism(sight-seeing,board and lodging,transport) as well as Healthcare at a leading Indian hospital such as Apollo or AIIMS.It should offer special benefits and discounts  Proper publicity and marketing of the scheme to make it popular among foreigners must be carried out(somewhat like the incredible india! campaign).
  • Reformat the education system to give medical colleges a much needed tweak/boost.We require more doctors,not just for foreign patients but for locals as well.It is after all a matter of life and death!
  • Lastly all services,especially transport services must pull up their socks and clean up their act.(weeding out bottlenecks and corruption)

Who is the founder of Apollo hospitals,the third largest private healthcare provider in the world?

Think you have the answer to my latest poser?Have something that you are eager to share with us. Well,worry not. Post all your comments or your answers on the comments page.

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