Imagine having a family member or a loved one diagnosed with an incurable disease, only to find out that a medical facility in India promises a miracle procedure to fix it. Would you take the risk of traveling to a foreign country, unsure of its health codes and regulations, to try and find a cure?
This is the question many people around the world, and especially in America, are asking as they are confronted with unreal promises of cures and fantastic medicines in India. Interestingly enough, many people are taking the risk of trusting foreign doctors as their last resorts. As one woman put it, “All my doctors are Indian. What’s so wrong with going directly where they’re made?”
India’s medical tourism sector has become a growing source of foreign exchange and prestige outside the country. With the support of the government, this sector will reach profits of $3 billion in 2013. Although by 2013, India will be projected to be taking in only 3% of the share in global medical tourism, the sector is only growing, and has the great potential to turn India into a hub for cheap medical procedures.
Maheshwari of RNCOS, a Delhi-based company which specializes in industry intelligence, said, “Medical tourism can be considered one of the rapidly growing industries in the Indian economy on the back of various factors. However, the industry is at a nascent stage and requires a few years to reach the platform already established by the IT sector.” His work predicts that there will be 1.3 million medical tourists to India in 2013 and that the the growth rate in revenue from 2011 to 2013 will be 26%.
“I strongly believe that many developments across the world will put India in a fantastic position,” says Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon and chairman of Narayana Hrudayalaya. “We produce the largest number of doctors, nurses and medical technicians in the world. Also, we have been traditionally linked with western health care because of the British influence on our medical education and the ability to speak English. This is extremely important for developing health care.”
The rapid growth was alarming enough to prompt President Barack Obama to urge people to not go to India or Mexico for cheap health care at a town hall gathering in Virginia in April of 2011. He continued saying, “I would like you to get it right here in the U.S.” This was said after it was reported that 40% of medical tourists come from the U.S. India hosts medical tourists from industrialized countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, but also from its neighbors Bangladesh, China and Pakistan. It faces intense regional competition in this sector, particularly from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Medical tourism is a clear example of how India is profiting from globalization and outsourcing.
Indeed, India has shown to be able to provide global health care at prices unimaginable in the U.S. even when travel costs are put into perspective. In response to Obama’s call for people to stay in the U.S. for their health care, Reuben Abraham, Executive Director of the Center for Emerging Markets at the Indian School of Business, says, “People will always weigh the cost and the benefits. If there is a 10% saving and there is a danger of the superbug then chances are that people will not want to take it. But if you are offering an 80% discount, it is a different matter. If India continues to offer high quality health care at one-tenth the cost in the U.S. then these things will not make an impact.”
According to the BusinessWorld report, a heart bypass surgery costs $144,000 in the U.S., $25,000 in Costa Rica, $24,000 in Thailand, $20,000 in Mexico, $13,500 in Singapore, and $8,500 in India. To think that a heart surgery costs the same as a 5-year-old used Toyota seems ridiculous. The price differences are stark and when asked about the quality of the surgeries, Indian officials argue the care is excellent and very safe. These price differences may be due to the lower costs of living in foreign nations as opposed to the U.S.
The risks associated with medical tourism are clear. Not all hospitals use safe procedures and the medical clinics often make outrageous claims of being able to cure diseases never before cured. They have been accused of preying on the minds and hearts of those who have loved ones that are sick and diseased. If anything goes wrong with the procedures or they do not work, the victims of the fraud may never be recompensed due to the lack of documentation of medical professionals and clinics that exists in India.
Nevertheless, the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) has attempted to ease these issues by establishing a list of approved hospitals, clinics and doctors and creating a way by which any malpractice may be reported and tried in Indian courts.
The Indian government continues to support the growing sector. Official efforts to promote medical tourism took off in late 2002. In 2003 the finance minister Jaswant Singh called for the country to become a “global health destination.” He urged for improvements in airport infrastructure so as to make it easier and friendlier for medical tourists. The government has also begun giving out “M” visas or Medical visas specifically for medical tourists, so as to promote the sector. These visas are easier to obtain and are given to travelling companions as well. With over 3,300 hospitals and around 750,000 registered medical practitioners, the sector is likely to become more of an industry in India, as has become the IT sector.
However, it cannot be stressed enough the risks involved with this type of medical care. And to the reader, I ask, Would you consider becoming a medical tourist in any case? and Why?