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How medical tourism can benefit India and US

Last updated on: November 4, 2010 08:12 IST

How medical tourism can benefit India and US

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Facilitating medical tourism to India is not on the agenda of issues that will be addressed during US President Barack Obama's visit but it should have been.

This is because it can benefit both the countries, a fact often not appreciated in either because of misconceptions.

One is that a dollar spent by a US citizen in India means a dollar less of revenue for the US health-care industry.

India offering health-care tourism amounts to services exports which is currently politically anathema in the US because it is seen as leading to job losses.

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Image: Ayurveda attracts tourists.

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But the reality is different as it is not a zero-sum game. American health-care spending in India does not mean less so in the US as a significant section of Americans are currently without health insurance cover as it is unaffordable.

President Obama's health-care reform has sought to address precisely this.

US citizens for whom health cover in the US is too costly can find an alternative destination in India as costs here are often around a fifth of US levels.

This is why some US insurance companies are offering an overseas option to members who have a maximum fixed benefit.

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Image: Health cover costly in US.

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How medical tourism can benefit India and US

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There is a similar misconception in India. It is argued that as there is a serious shortage of doctors and other health-care providers in India, promoting medical tourism will mean even fewer professionals for Indians.

The point is that health-care skills at a certain level are not fungible.

A doctor or nurse who is serving at a corporate hospital will not turn to those sections currently outside the purview of health-care delivery if there is dip in high-paying foreign patients.

Yes there is a skills shortage, but the solution to that does not lie in discouraging medical tourism.

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Image: Doctors in India.

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Foreign patients represent significant potential pluses. According to current reckoning, the healthcare tourism market in India can touch Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion) or upwards of $2 billion, catering to 350,000 foreign patients or more by 2012.

Though India has emerged as one of the top-ten global destinations for medical tourism, it lags behind Thailand, Singapore and, to an extent, Malaysia.

Hence the need for promotion as there is potential. Sixteen prominent Indian hospitals, some of them belonging to well-known corporate chains, have been accredited by the Joint Commission International, which is the overseas arm of the most well-known US accreditation agency.

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Image: India, hotspot for medical tourism.

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The best Indian hospitals are considered to be particularly good in orthopaedic and cardiovascular procedures.

The biggest gain to the country from medical tourism will be the push it will give to achieve international standards.

Leading hospitals that conform to such standards will also open a door for successful NRI doctors to return to India and work under conditions they are used to.

As more hospitals become world-class and repositories of the highest skills, it will lead to quality improvement down the line.

Indian health care needs much more to set itself right but this is one plus.

As for the developed countries that are rapidly aging, the sooner they come to terms with healthcare tourism the better it will be for their budgets.


Image: Asian Heart Institute.

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