Thursday, 2 January 2014

Medical Tourism in India

Source: gtp headlines
India had witnessed as many as 850,000 medical tourists in 2011 and is likely to provide its medical services to an astounding 3,200,000 medical tourists by 2015, according to an ASSOCHAM estimate.

Medical tourism came into being as there emerged a phenomenon wherein people began to travel across the globe for medical treatment. The term, medical tourism, was coined by mass media and travel agencies that took note of this mushrooming phenomenon.
India, for its part, has had a rich history of providing medical services to people from all corners of the world.  India’s ayurvedic treatment and yogic practices have always been attractive. However, in the current scenario, India along with a bunch of other South Asian countries have been drawing millions from European countries for being able to provide technologically advanced treatment that are at par with global standards in a timely manner and at affordable rates. Medical tourism is turning out to be a lucrative opportunity for most developing countries including Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and India to earn revenue and improve economic growth. India is said to have the potential to attract 1 million health tourists per annum which is likely draw US$ 5 billion to the economy. The CII-McKinsey, in its report, had suggested earlier that medical tourism would fetch $2 billion by 2012 instead of $ 333 million as estimated in 2006-07.

Despite the promising potential, medical tourism has attracted some criticism both from the service providers as well the consumers. Currently, only private hospitals are involved in providing medical services to tourists. The public sector hospitals lag behind, although the CII has been making efforts to make public hospitals medical tourism sites. There is also the view that medical tourism caters to the elite from abroad for whom the cost and charges are easily affordable. But for a mostly poor nation like India, medical treatment remains a challenge. Despite having free medical services in certain cases in government hospitals, it does not cover all ailments and delivery mechanisms continue to be hostile in many cases.Thirdly, critics feel that if public hospitals are also included in providing medical services to foreigners, it will lead to neglecting the poor and needy. On the other hand tourists face difficulty with regard to accessing reliable information about hospitals, understanding local language, reporting fraud or any contention to the correct authority, etc.
As far as policy is concerned, India lacks a specific policy that deals with medical tourism. Nevertheless official measures have been taken in order to encourage medical tourism like relaxation of visa norms, issuing special medical visas, recognising the economic potential of medical tourism in the National Health Policy, offshore campaigning and marketing, etc. The absence of a regulatory body and an organised structure for medical tourism needs to be dealt with in depth as well.  Consequently, there is an increasing need to formulate an inclusive policy on medical tourism keeping in mind both- the consumers as well as providers.

Pallavi Ghosh and Neha Singh

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