Reckoned as the next big forex earner after software exports, medical tourism to India is increasing rapidly. Globally, it is becoming quite common for foreign citizens to seek medical care in other countries and coupling it with tourism.
Affordability and better medical support services in India together with its renowned tag as a tourism destination of choice is weighing heavily in India’s favour. Indian doctors are gaining recognition internationally for their skill and for operating with some of the best globally acclaimed equipment and are strengthening this service industry.
The anticipated shift in medical location is not just cost or service-quality related. Resources like doctors too are expected to become scarce in many parts of the world. Latest reports indicate that USA alone is likely to have a shortfall of about 1,20,000 physicians by the year 2030 even as their over 65-year age group increases by 50%.
With the skills of Indian doctors and their general patient behaviour well established internationally, a further improvement in the hospital infrastructure and service quality delivery levels will improve India’s offerings. With innovative solutions, significant economic benefits could accrue to India as a 5% slice of this US market alone could result in USD 175 billion exports for India.
While patient acquisitions could start internationally through free front office consultations, for example, back-end, the fragmented Indian medical delivery system needs to invest, train and scale both in quality and quantity on a war footing by building world-class hospitals and staff trained to serve foreign patients.
One-stop services encompassing travel, accommodation, cashless direct billing, 24 x 7 customer service accompanied by post-hospital care would be greatly welcome by foreign patients and their relatives. Even Indians with knowledge of foreign languages could benefit medical tourism. Post-surgical rehabilitation service enhancements could even include yoga, meditation and balanced-diet clinics. The cost arbitrage, being witnessed already in the software segment by giant MNCs will readily appeal to foreign medical insurance companies.
The medical tourism industry will also boost India’s growing generic drug industry and will bring success to its pharmaceutical industry. All this will, however, need to be strategized minutely and executed well in the public-private partnership mode.
The NITI Aayog has already identified medical tourism as a major forex earner.
India has a unique value proposition in its product mix offerings in medical tourism. Its potential as a credible destination, providing quality services in wellness, preventive, and alternative medicine is well recognized. The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, abbreviated as AYUSH is already functional and has the potential to offer a distinctive alternate to conventional medical tourism. India is uniquely positioned to offer both forms of treatment which could, soon, be a game changer in this segment.
Patients from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Oman, Maldives, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen are already visiting India for medical tourism. Pragmatic planning and execution will give India its next poster-boy of forex earnings.