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Tension with Pak to wound medical tourism industry

Last updated on: January 17, 2013 09:59 IST

Tension with Pak to wound medical tourism industry

Sushmi Dey in New Delhi

ndia's medical tourism industry, pegged at around $2 billion and growing at 20 per cent a year, is set to take a significant hit if the ongoing tensions with Pakistan persist. Hospitals and industry experts fear visa hurdles might restrict the movement of patients from that country, who constitute around 15-20 per cent of the total international travellers coming to India for medical treatment. This could cause a chunky revenue loss for the country.

Hospital chains like Apollo, Medanta, Max and Ganga Ram attract patients from Pakistan. According to top representatives from these hospitals, patients primarily come for organ transplants (such as liver and kidney), oncology-related treatment and cardiac and orthopedic surgeries. The number had already started coming down but the impact on India's medical tourism might show more after around a month if the situation continued, they said.

For instance, at Ganga Ram Hospital, which receives 4-5 patients a day from Pakistan, the number has reduced to 1-2 patients since Sunday. "If such tensions continue, it will definitely impact the inflow of patient. Things might become worse if they stop issuing new visas," a hospital executive said.

Apollo Hospital General Manager (Marketing and Strategic Businesses) Raj Raina said: "There could be trouble... The government may act cautious ahead of the Republic Day." Pointing out the hospital typically had patients lined up 3-4 weeks in advance, he said the exact impact could be assessed in about 10 days, when patients who have just got appointments initiate their visa processes. Apollo is among the hospitals that attract the highest number of patients from Pakistan (50-60 patients a month). Around 90 per cent of them come for liver transplants. According to Raina, the hospital conducted 130 liver transplants on Pakistani patients in 2012.

Medanta received 8-10 patients a month from that country. International patients constituted 18-20 per cent of its total occupancy, its vice-president (international marketing), Navneet Malhotra, said. The hospital currently has 900 beds.

When contacted, a government official said medical tourism was a "special case". "When it comes to giving visas to special cases, we do not discriminate between countries," he claimed. However, doctors and hospital representatives argued there was a gap between "what is" and "what should be". Also, patients from Pakistan might choose not to visit India at this point, given the brewing tensions.

India has been promoting medical tourism for some time. With an average occupancy of 10-20 per cent of the total, international patients are a major revenue churner for many corporate hospitals. For instance, Apollo earns 20-25 per cent of its Rs 600-crore revenue from international patients, while patients from Pakistan contribute 3 per cent of the total.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Executive Director and Leader (Healthcare Practice) Rana Mehta says: "Medical tourism is an important segment because it allows hospitals to charge a premium of 20-25 per cent over fees from local patients. So, the realisation per patient is more."

However, some also believe the tensions would harm Pakistan more than India. "It is more of Pakistan's loss than India's. It is not that they are giving us a lot of revenue, they come here primarily because quality healthcare is unavailable here and India is a cost-effective option with physical proximity," says Deloitte Touche senior director (strategy & operations consulting) Charu Sehgal.