Medical tourism

Medical tourism is getting momentum and people are coming with slogans like:

‘First World treatment at Third World prices’.

. A simple definition of medical tourism says “it is a practice of traveling across international borders to obtain health care“.

By looking at the health care trends, which says Health Care is a US$ 35 billion industry in India and it is expected to reach over US$ 75 billion by 2012 and US$ 150 billion by 2017. In fact, the Indian health care industry has already grown manifold during the last few years. And, there is still a yawning divide between health care facilities available in rural and urban India and in the demand and supply of health care services across the country. However, overall Indian health care infrastructure is fast improving with initiatives by the government and the private sector. Specially, the entry of private players like Apollo, Fortis and WorkHardt has further spurred the development of the health care sector.

Also, by looking at the growth opportunity, its rising middle class, growing aging population and increased urbanization it is sure that health care need will always increase. While internal demand will increase, it is also important that India should have strong focus on medical tourism (one form of service export). It is important to understand the contribution of medical tourism, specially after people have started believing that health care is also an industry. While in India, most of the times things are happening because of the self-believe of the individuals, if we want to make serious inroad into medical tourism market and compete with countries like :
* Costa Rica
* Israel
* Brazil
* Argentina
* Mexico
* South Korea and
* Thailand
then it is important to define a set of rules and standard, strongly governed by the law of the country, to ensure that people really get “First World treatment at Third World prices” and additionally, they also get the first world peace of mind post treatment.

So, before we start getting into a mode of finding a solution, lets try to understand the reason for the medical tourism and issues involved in the medical tourism.
What kind of treatments are usually involved?
Services involved in medical tourism typically include

  1. elective procedures including complex specialized surgeries such as joint replacement, cardiac surgery, dental surgery, and cosmetic surgeries.
  2. alternative treatments / medicines
  3. convalescent care and
  4. virtually every type of health care services, including psychiatry, rehabilitation, old age care, etc.
  5. Also, people try to avail those services which doesn’t prevent them from traveling from one place to other place.

The common reasons for out of country treatments are
1. Overall low cost of treatment (sometimes it may cost even one tenth of the actual cost back home)
2. Shorter waiting time as there may be long queue for a specific procedure in the home country
3. Quality of the treatment, care and the doctors in India is as competent as anywhere else in the world
4. More and more insurance providers have started covering for treatment outside the home country
5. Need for high level personal care and attention from hospitals
6. The tour packages combined with medical treatment is sometimes really rewarding
7. Sometimes a particular procedure is not at all available in your country or better service is available abroad
8. Besides world class medical facilities, India also has traditional and strongly proven medicine such as Ayurveda and combine them with the Yoga and usually well cooked food, it provides a great option for the foreigners.

Issues in Medical tourism
As a practical matter, providers and customers commonly use informal channels of communication-connection-contract, and in such cases this tends to mean less regulatory or legal oversight to assure quality and less formal recourse to reimbursement or redress, if needed. Some of the common issues being faced by patients availing medical tourism are:
1) Other countries might not regulate professional licensing and certification as closely as your own country
2) If something does go wrong then you may not have same legal advantage that you may have in your own country
3) Sometimes the insurer may not cover the cost of additional treatments and surgeries needed due to your overseas operation
4) Flying immediately after or within a few days of a surgery can cause some very serious complications
5) Sometimes you may not get adequate follow-up care, which is needed for long term cure
6) Exposure to diseases without having built up natural immunity (which may vary from country to country) can be a hazard for weakened individuals
7) Too much mixing of treatment and tourism may lead to excessive drinking / smoking and lack of rest, which can cause further complexity

While private sectors have been improving its operations continuously and in fact some of them have been buying hospitals abroad to provide more confidence to the people, there must be a set of well defined rule, so that patients will know upfront about what they can expect in the worst situation. Additionally, India is still associated with pollution, malaria, bad roads, traffic and unhygienic water. The government must work in conjunction with the healthcare industry in a public-private partnership and provide confidence to decide about Indian health care organizations without much doubt.

Good news is that Indian Government is actively working on this and in fact they have already done few things. For example

  • Indian government issues a medical visa for those who come in for medical treatment.
  • the treatment of foreign patients is legally an export and eligible for all fiscal incentives extended to export earnings
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