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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Medical tourism to India

    Posted by Reena Ganga

Many people already travel to India for rejuvenating treatments such as yoga and ayurvedic massage, but now they're going for heart by-pass surgery as well.

The Economist has an interesting article about the outsourcing of medical treatment to India. It looks at how specially equipped state-of-the-art hospitals, such as the Apollo hospital in Chennai, have been sub-contracting work from Britain's National Health Service.

One of the key attractions of undergoing treatment in India is that it comes at a significantly lower price to what one would pay in Britain. While Britain's NHS does provide free services, lengthy waiting lists mean many resort to using the costly private health care system.

According to Britain's Department of Health, the total number of patients waiting to be admitted to NHS hospitals in England at the end of June 2004 was 885,400. Of these, 80 people had been waiting for more than nine months.

Hence, the Indian hospital groups claim that so-called medical tourism has the added advantage of freeing up the NHS.

With the potential to inject US$1billion into the economy annually and create tens of millions of new jobs, Indian hospitals are keen to cash in on the program. The country is set to launch an international advertising campaign this November to promote the venture and it's looking at all sorts of ways to attract patients.

There is a large overseas population of Indian origin - nearly 1.5m in Britain alone - who might combine treatment with a family visit.

The hospitals are also negotiating with hotels to put together packages that allow patients to combine their medical treatment with a beachside getaway.

Excellent service is a part of the deal - the Apollo hospital's website says it will provide international patients with a translator, make arrangements for travel, site seeing and shopping as well as serve cuisine to your liking.

There are, however, some obstacles India will have to overcome if the venture is to take off in the way that is hoped.

Indian hospitals lack accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organisations (JCAHO), suffer from a lack of standards in terms of quality and rates for healthcare procedures, have no gradation system and a far from perfect insurance sector. In addition, top Indian hospitals have high infection and mortality rates, and are unwilling to disclose data regarding these.

However, India's Healthcare Newspaper does propose a solution to some of these hurdles:

If the NHS would like to benchmark hospitals for outsourcing purposes, then they can engage a rating agency acceptable to them. In the interim, they could do this and on a pilot basis, selective hospitals in major cities could be rated and the NHS could have an MOU with these hospitals.

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