Rise of Medical Tourism in India

Over the past decade, India has gained a reputation in providing high quality medical service at low costs to medical tourists travelling from across the globe. However, with the travel bans during the covid-19 pandemic, the influx of medical tourists had dipped. According to the Tourism Ministry, India registered a negative growth of 79.4% over 2020. Although, the situation looks positive once more owing to the efforts made to handle the pandemic situation. Market insights suggest the demand forecast to increase at a robust 19 % CAGR in 2022.

Why is India emerging as the popular medical hub for patients? India’s healthcare industry offers a combination of both modern and traditional forms of medicine which sets the country apart from others. First, it has a set of world-class doctors and hospitals that provide treatment at fractional rates when compared to other countries. Secondly, India’s systems of medicine: AYUSH i.e. Ayurveda, Yoga, Panchakarma, Rejuvenation Therapy, etc, which are the most ancient forms of medicine, are now gaining immense popularity globally. PM Modi also recently announced plans to launch an AYUSH Mark. A mark to provide credibility to AYUSH products in India and promote India’s medical tourism sector. Additionally, the other medical services and facilities are also backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA).

To become the No.1 medical travel destination, there is a need for significant investments into making the healthcare industry and equipment attractive for international patients. Patients spend most of their time in guest houses and are prone to further infections from such places. Thus, proper infrastructure and standardisation needs to be brought into the tourism industry and nexus of guest house service providers urgently. Another aspect that needs to be tapped into is the opportunity for selling Indian health insurance to foreigners. This has the capability to generate an additional $9 billion in patient inflow to India.

To maximise the industry’s potential, the government is pulling out all its aces. The aim is to make India the No.1 Destination for Medical Tourism in the world, tripling its revenue to $13 billion within 4 years. The government has also proposed an outlay of US$ 28.7 billion for health and well-being, which is 137% higher than the previous year's budget outlay.

The following measures have been taken up by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare:

  • Special provision of Medical Visa has been made for tourists travelling to India for healthcare purposes. This has been made available in 165 countries.
  • Setting up a feedback mechanism to obtain testimonials from tourists travelling to the country for medical purposes. This ‘one-step’ portal would add to the convenience and provide credible information for medical tourists coming to India.
  • The 'Heal in India' initiative aims to position the country as a global hub for medical and wellness tourism. Under this initiative, foreigners or those seeking medical help will be able to locate the list of hospitals in the country available to provide their choice of medical treatments through an ‘one step’ online portal. It is a one stop shop for all services from the treatment package cost, visa applications to grievance redressals and feedback. The initiative also aims at providing a database of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists and will also include a section where professionals can specify the country in which they are most interested in providing their services. This will allow India to diversify its operations by sending doctors abroad to treat patients.

The following measures have been taken up by the Ministry of Tourism:

  • The Marketing Development Assistance Scheme (MDA) offers financial assistance to approved tourism service providers to promote an intricate nexus of facilities for the tourists to stay.
  • Publicity materials, such as brochures and CDs, intended to promote medical and health tourism have been circulated in target markets. Yoga/Ayurveda/Wellness has been promoted over the last two years in print, electronic, internet, and outdoor media under the Ministry of Tourism's "Incredible India Campaign''.

To conclude, in the post-Covid world, the demand for the healthcare industry is bound to surge and there is a huge potential for India to realise and aggressively advance towards attracting medical tourists from other parts of the world including Europe and the Americas. With the government making it their priority to make India the hub of medical tourism, the initiatives combined with the surging demand are sure to make India the centre for all medical tourists in the future. Not only will India be the leader in saving millions of lives, but will also simultaneously generate valuable jobs and over $13 billion in forex.

This blog has been co-authored by Priyanka Cardoz and Sanjana Saigal.