iy02IndiatourismMedical tourism will experience “explosive growth” over the next five years, perhaps increasing to six million by 2010 and creating a $100 billion industry. So says a 2008 report based on an online survey of 3,000 Americans conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a sector of Deloitte LLP that researches and develops solutions to health care problems. The report also disclosed that in 2007, an estimated 750,000 Americans travelled abroad for medical care. While America-based, the study gives a picture of medical tourism on the rise.

And India is at the forefront. “Medical tourism in India is one of the best options available to people across the globe. Millions come every year to get treated,” says Preeti Saran, India’s consul general to Toronto.

Another report conducted by McKinsey & Co. also an American-based research firm, indicated that almost half of medical travellers are having general surgery or orthopedic care and, Paul Mango, co-author of this report, said that Canadians make up approximately six per cent of medical tourists.

“I’ve noticed a huge amount of interest since my arrival in Toronto 11 months ago,” Saran continues. “People tell me, ‘The facilities, the infrastructure, the doctors, I could not have had it better.’”

These are not idle claims, as India is positioning itself to become the leading global healthcare destination, with its healthcare industry undergoing a phenomenal expansion at an annual growth rate estimated to be 13 per cent.

According to the Indian Medical Travel Association, “Indian hospitals now have the latest cutting edge technology and world class doctors. Modern medicine combined with India’s five-thousand-year-old traditional therapies can offer to the whole world an unbeatable healing package.”

Why? Indian healthcare is focused on safety, trust and excellence, boasting highly qualified professionals and a state-of-the-art infrastructure.

2794064Shutterstock/Lisa F YoungPatient First
But it really is the Patient First approach, along with the cost advantage, that attracts over a million patients annually. Overseas patients usually come to India on a package deal that includes flights, transfers, hotels, treatment – and often a post-operative vacation. While in-country they enjoy:

• Personalized care and hospitality.
• Doctors who are proficient in English. Most hospitals even provide interpreters to cut across language barriers.
• An overall care that makes hospital stays, a pleasant experience.
• Attention to details like a shuttle service to and from the airport, the acceptance of international credit cards and the availability of international cuisine.

And then there is the cost factor. Despite the fact that the trip is much longer, it is cheaper – about one-third of the cost – to travel to India than to have a procedure done in the U.S. Experts estimate the cost of hip surgery in India, including three weeks recovery time and all expenses, is $14,000 to 15,000. In the U.S., the cost is between US $26,000 and $40,000 for surgery and hospital stay, plus there is the added cost for transportation and expenses during recuperative time. Treatment in India is a deal when it comes to heart surgery (coronary artery bypass graft), which costs between $15,000 and $18,000 compared to US $80,000 to $150,000 in the United States. While it is difficult to ascertain costs in the Canadian system, UBC once reported that the cost for hip surgery and the hospital stay was $18,000.

2884177Shutterstock/Girish MenonPatricia’s Story
But surely the best indicator of this trend in global healthcare is the stories of patients themselves. Like Patricia Melo of Hamilton.

“The treatment that I was given in India was just amazing! The nurses and staff are so competent and caring…”says the 34-year-old mother of two. “Just 24 hours after surgery, I was able to get up out of bed. I took nine steps that day! I stood tall…I had been hunched over in a bent position for almost four years so this was a milestone.”

Patricia’s destination was the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, southern India where she had spinal surgery, and her story is both disturbing and heartening.

A car accident in 2004 left her in extreme pain and unable to move properly. “I was deteriorating,” she recalls, saying she lost feeling in both her legs and was eventually wheelchair bound. She waited close to a year-and-a-half for an MRI, which disclosed she had a herniated disc; it took almost another year to see a surgeon only to be told that surgery was not an option as she was a high risk candidate.

Feeling at the end of her rope, with two active sons, she now says how grateful she was that a friend saw a television program featuring medical tourism to India. Here is how the system works.

After being contacted and interviewing a prospective client, the patient receives three forms to complete; one is for their attending physician confirming the diagnosis and how long the patient has been waiting for surgery. The patient’s medical report is then sent to the doctor off-shore to review and the surgeon personally contacts the patient by telephone. (Patricia Melo says her surgeon, who had been trained in France and Germany, called her, explained the procedure well and was caring.) Once everything is confirmed for treatment, the tour operator takes over, completing paperwork, making all the arrangements including all transportation, any visas and any recuperative time after the hospital stay.

Payment is made directly to the tour operator and they distribute payment to the care facility and other providers.

A Canadian First
The first Canadian medical tourism conference was held in Toronto November 10 to 22, 2009 at the Metro Convention Centre and was co-hosted by the Indian government, private health care companies and firms specializing in medical tourism. About 1,000 people attended the free event, and took in sessions where representatives of the Indian Health Care industry, academics, industry researchers, market and industry analysts, government officials and policy makers presented their information, exchanged ideas and answered questions.

“The panel discussion was very interactive, [with] many questions by various reporters who were amazed by our experience and truly felt our venture to India for surgery well needed,” says Patricia Melo. “Sharing my experience to India with one family brought a tremendous feeling of happiness knowing that they, too, will be helped and regain their life.”

For more information on India: Medical Tourism Destination, visit www.imtd2009.com.