On a recent trip to a prestigious city hospital to visit an acquaintance undergoing treatment, I came across 2 persons from Nigeria, looking around to exchange their dollars. Their relative was admitted for kidney ailment and would perhaps undergo surgery the next day.
The Nigerians were among a steady stream of visitors from abroad, who increasingly find Indian medical system among the best in the world yet vastly cheap compared to those in western countries and even in the Southeast Asia.
They are called medical tourists, and their numbers are multiplying rapidly. It’s not only India that is seeing the rush of medical tourism, but quite a few other countries as well.
A Forbes report lists at least 7 top hospitals as destinations for medical tourism, and among them the only Indian is the Escorts Heart Institute that reportedly charges at least 50% less than its counterparts in US and UK.
The others in Forbes list are Prince Court Medical Center in Kuala Lumpur, National Cancer Center in Singapore, Bay View Private Hospital in Mossel Bay (South Africa), Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, The Ivo Pitanguy Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, and American Hospital Dubai.
Notably, many of these hospitals are located in exquisite locales – for example the Bay View hospital. They are destinations for medical tourists for a long time, but they are not necessarily that cheap compared to the hospitals in India.
The other advantage of Indian hospitals is that the standard of treatment, especially complicated surgeries, is very high, and there are good number of doctors available too. There are estimates that the value of medical tourism to India can go as high as $2 billion a year by 2012 (Ref: Wikipedia).
In India, Chennai is considered the country’s Health Capital, garnering as much as 45% of health tourists from abroad and 30-40% of domestic health tourists.
In sharp contrast, Kolkata hospitals used to be the last preference till sometime back. The situation is now fast changing. This Business Line report (incidentally a Chennai publication) has found that Bengal is emerging as a major hub for medical tourism.
There is no doubt that the boom in medical tourism is the result of the Internet revolution where exchange of information has become a child’s play.
As Forbes say, “Web sites like MedRetreat.com facilitate medical tourism and allow potential patients to comb through vacation-like packages for procedures and destinations as if they were going on a honeymoon.“
Since no analysis is complete without some hard figures, here are some from the Forbes report:
Last year, more than 500,000 U.S. citizens traveled abroad for health care. They went to Thailand to get heart bypass surgeries for $11,000 instead of the $130,000 it would cost in the US. Or they went to India for spinal fusion at $5,500 a pop, well below the $62,000 sticker price in the States.
Lastly – and this one is for punters – if the rush of foreigners seeking medical succor in India burgeons, which apparently it will, doesn’t it make sense to pick up related stocks such as Apollo Hospitals, Fortis, and suchlike? You bet.