Information >> Growth of the Medical Tourism Industry
The countries where medical tourism is
being actively promoted include Greece, South Africa, Jordan, India,
Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore. India is a recent entrant into medical
tourism. According to a study by McKinsey and the Confederation of Indian
Industry, medical tourism in India could become a $1 billion business by
2012. The report predicts that: "By 2012, if medical tourism were to
reach 25 per cent of revenues of private up-market players, up to Rs 10,000
crore will be added to the revenues of these players". The Indian
government predicts that India's $17-billion-a-year health-care industry
could grow 13 per cent in each of the next six years, boosted by medical
tourism, which industry watchers say is growing at 30 per cent annually.
In India, the Apollo group alone has so far treated 95,000 international
patients, many of whom are of Indian origin. Apollo has been a forerunner in
medical tourism in India and attracts patients from Southeast Asia, Africa,
and the Middle East. The group has tied up with hospitals in Mauritius,
Tanzania, Bangladesh and Yemen besides running a hospital in Sri Lanka, and
managing a hospital in Dubai.
Another corporate group running a chain of hospitals, Escorts, claims it
has doubled its number of overseas patients - from 675 in 2000 to nearly
1,200 this year. Recently, the Ruby Hospital in Kolkata signed a contract
with the British insurance company, BUPA. The management hopes to get
British patients from the queue in the National Health Services soon. Some
estimates say that foreigners account for 10 to 12 per cent of all patients
in top Mumbai hospitals despite roadblocks like poor aviation connectivity,
poor road infrastructure and absence of uniform quality standards.
Analysts say that as many as 150,000 medical tourists came to India last
year. However, the current market for medical tourism in India is mainly
limited to patients from the Middle East and South Asian economies. Some
claim that the industry would flourish even without Western medical
tourists. Afro-Asian people spend as much as $20 billion a year on health
care outside their countries - Nigerians alone spend an estimated $1 billion
a year. Most of this money would be spent in Europe and America, but it is
hoped that this would now be increasingly directed to developing countries
with advanced facilities.
Promotion Of Medical Tourism
The key "selling points" of the medical tourism industry are its "cost
effectiveness" and its combination with the attractions of tourism. The
latter also uses the ploy of selling the "exotica" of the
countries involved as well as the packaging of health care with traditional
therapies and treatment methods.
Price advantage is, of course, a major selling point. The slogan, thus is, "First
World treatment' at Third World prices". The cost differential across
the board is huge: only a tenth and sometimes even a sixteenth of the cost
in the West. Open-heart surgery could cost up to $70,000 in Britain and up
to $150,000 in the US; in India's best hospitals it could cost between
$3,000 and $10,000. Knee surgery (on both knees) costs 350,000 rupees
($7,700) in India; in Britain this costs £10,000 ($16,950), more than
twice as much. Dental, eye and cosmetic surgeries in Western countries cost
three to four times as much as in India.
The price advantage is however offset today for patients from the developed
countries by concerns regarding standards, insurance coverage and other
infrastructure. This is where the tourism and medical industries are trying
to pool resources, and also putting pressure on the government. We shall
turn to their implications later.
In India the strong tradition of traditional systems of health care in
Kerala, for example, is utilised. Kerala Ayurveda centres have been
established at multiple locations in various metro cities, thus highlighting
the advantages of Ayurveda in health management. The health tourism focus
has seen Kerala participate in various trade shows and expos wherein the
advantages of this traditional form of medicine are showcased.
A generic problem with medical tourism is that it reinforces the
medicalised view of health care. By promoting the notion that medical
services can be bought off the shelf from the lowest priced provider
anywhere in the globe, it also takes away the pressure from the government
to provide comprehensive health care to all its citizens. It is a deepening
of the whole notion of health care that is being pushed today which
emphasises on technology and private enterprise.
The important question here is for whom is 'cost effective' services to be
provided. Clearly the services are "cost effective" for those who
can pay and in addition come from countries where medical care costs are
exorbitant - because of the failure of the government to provide affordable
medical care. It thus attracts only a small fraction that can pay for
medical care and leaves out large sections that are denied medical care but
cannot afford to pay. The demand for cost effective specialized care is
coming from the developed countries where there has been a decline in public
spending and rise in life expectancy and non-communicable diseases that
requires specialist services.