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Heal in India: Emergence of India as a Hub of Medical Tourism

Heal in India: Emergence of India as a Hub of Medical TourismWith its rich cultural heritage, myriad attractions, and picturesque landscapes, India is emerging as the most preferred destination for tourists from across the world. Expected to contribute a staggering $512 bn to India’s GDP by 2029, the travel and tourism industry is an integral pillar of the Make in India program and is emerging as one of the key drivers of growth among the services sectors.

Interestingly, India is visited not only for its tradition, enthralling beauty, and delightful diversity but also for its high-end healthcare ecosystem and world-class medical treatment. Over the years, India has become a premier and attractive destination for travellers from across the globe to attain best-in-class clinical treatment, recharge, and rejuvenate.

Medical Tourism (also known as Medical Value Travel, Health Tourism, or Wellness Tourism) is defined as the accelerating practice of travelling across international locales and territories to seek healthcare services. Healthcare services and offerings in India are primarily classified into three broad categories:

  • Medical Treatment: Treatment for curative purposes that include cardiac care, organ transplantation, orthopedics, neurosciences, oncology, and bariatrics.
  • Wellness and Rejuvenation: Offerings focused on rejuvenation or for aesthetic reasons such as cosmetic surgery, stress relief, spa treatments, etc.
  • Alternative Medicine: Treatment to seek AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy) services

Across these categories, India is largely visited by medical visitors from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Oman, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nigeria, Kenya and Iraq. Key medical tourism destinations within India include hospitals and diagnostic centres in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities such as Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Chandigarh, Jaipur, etc. Naturally, several underlying factors are making India a popular medical tourism destination. These are as follows:

  • Infrastructural Facilities and Digital Enablement: Ranging from the problems of the eye, heart, and kidney to organ transplantation, orthopedics, and cancer, the Indian healthcare ecosystem is delivering world-class care and treatment at lower costs (almost 20% less for major surgical treatments as compared to those of developed equipped with internationally recognized facilities). Currently, India has around 37 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited hospitals and 513 National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH) accredited hospitals that provide care at par or above global quality standards and benchmarks. India is also home to some of the most renowned super-specialty hospitals and services that provide patients with the latest and most advanced treatment options using the latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), and Robotics for greater accuracy and holistic well-being.
  • Trained Manpower: India is not only the center of world-class amenities but is also home to some of the most renowned and revered doctors in the world that are pioneers in their respective areas of specialization and clinical expertise. With over 1.2 million Allopathic doctors, 0.17 million dental surgeons, 2 million nurses, and 0.8 million formally trained Ayurvedic doctors, the country has the largest pool of doctors and paramedical staff in South Asia. Most of the doctors in the nation have trained and worked at some of the most prestigious medical institutions in the US, UK, and other developed nations, thus making them highly competent and capable in providing care to patients coming from the far corners of the globe.
  • Alternative Medicine and Therapeutic Treatments: India has positioned itself as the focal point of AYUSH, naturopathy, Vedanta, and meditation techniques, curated and restored from the most ancient of sciences and arts. From yoga ashrams to spas and wellness centers offering holistic therapies, India offers a multitude of sites and locations to retreat, recharge, and rejuvenate. The strong branding of AYUSH by the Government is drawing patients to India from across the world. Several players like Apollo and the Manipal Group are setting up wellness centers equipped with traditional healthcare remedies.
  • Quality of Care: Besides being the most affordable and accessible destination to seek clinical care and wellness treatment, India has emerged as the forerunner in providing care, which is inclusive, personal, and compassionate, truly living by “Athithi Devo Bhava” (Guest is akin to God). Medical personnel in India strive to maintain the highest standards by putting the patients’ needs and interests ahead of everything and by listening to them empathetically and compassionately.

To poise and establish India as the hub of medical tourism, the Government of India has been taking crucial steps and interventions to reduce the time of waiting and to ensure hassle-free travel, stay, and treatment for the medical patient and attendant. Some of the key initiatives include:

  • e-Medical and Medical Attendant Visa: The e-tourist visa launched in 2014 has expanded to include medical visits and medical attendant visas to streamline, ease, and expedite the travel procedures and protocols for allowing multiple entries and long-term stay of Medical Tourists. Additionally, separate immigration counters and facilitation desks have also been set up at major Indian airports to provide end-to-end support and facilitation. Owing to these facilities and logistical support systems, the number of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India on the medical visa have grown to an astounding 697,000 in 2019 from 495,056 in 2017.
  • The National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board: The National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board has been constituted under the Chairmanship of the Minister for Tourism to provide a dedicated and comprehensive institutional framework to promote and enhance Medical Tourism including the Indian system of medicine covered by AYUSH. The Board acts as the umbrella organization that governs and promotes Medical Tourism, with representations from the Ministry of AYUSH, Quality Council of India (QCI), and the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH).
  • Digital Enablement: The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Services Export Promotion Council (SEPC) have developed a healthcare portal for seekers and potential medical tourists from across the globe which functions as a comprehensive, one-point information site that covers hospital-related and travel-related information on India. The digital portal covers 124 accredited medical facilities across 93 medical centers, 30 Ayurveda and wellness centers, and 1 special category center.
  • Fiscal Support and Non-Fiscal Initiatives: To encourage Medical Tourism in the country, the Ministry of Tourism aims to provides financial support to approved Wellness Tourism Service Providers (WSTPs) and Medical Tourism Service Providers (MTSPs) under the Marketing Development Assistance Scheme (MDA). The Government has also been taking dedicated initiatives to promote indigenous medicine and related therapeutic procedures. The Ministry of AYUSH has recently been allocated INR 2,970 Crore in the Union Budget for FY 2021-22, as compared to INR 2,122 Crore in the Union Budget for FY 2020-21, tapping centuries of the wisdom of spiritual philosophy that is unique and unparalleled to the nation. Furthermore, the Ministry of Tourism has constituted a Wellness and Medical Tourism Promotion Committee (WMTPC) and chalked out detailed guidelines to promote Wellness and Medical Tourism as niche tourism products among international tourists and to make India a holistic tourism destination for 365 days offering varied medical services and techniques.

The growth drivers and interventions undertaken by the Government stand as testimony to India’s positioning as the healthcare destination of the world and truly invite the world to 'Heal in India'.