As more and more people, hospitals and patients the world over are becoming aware of the growth and potential of Medical Tourism governments too are awakening to take the necessary steps required to facilitate its growth and popularity in their respective countries. The Indian Government is one such body which is taking productive measures towards ensuring that this extremely lucrative opportunity may be available to the deserving, well equipped Indian hospitals and practices.

The Government of India estimates that, on average, Indian hospitals offer treatment for 20% of what it would cost in the United States, with even bigger discounts available on cosmetic surgery. The cost of heart surgery in India is $6,000 compared with $30,000 in the United States! India has introduced a medical visa aimed at assisting overseas visitors to travel to the country for cut-price hospital treatment. An initial visa is available for up to a year and can be used for up to three visits during the 12-month period.

Speaking at World Travel Market, Leena Nandan, Joint Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism, said a task force had now been formed to assess the benefits of actively promoting India as a medical tourism destination. “It will be looking at how we can best develop this opportunity whilst ensuring that all hospitals involved offer a uniformly high standard of treatment.”

India is also keen to promote the more leisure-based health tourism focusing on well-being, spas and traditional therapies. Said Ms Nandan: “The Indian systems of medicine including Ayurveda, Panchakarma, yoga and rejuvenation therapy are among the most ancient medical treatments in the world. “Health tourism is already being promoted as a key selling point in Kerala where a number of hotels feature Ayurveda centers and it’s a facility a lot of holiday makers are now looking for.”

Union Minister Ambika Soni recently announced that a total investment of $6.5 billion is in the pipeline for medical tourism industry in the country and the amount will also be used for setting up affordable hospitals and budget hotels for patients’ relatives in the country. This announcement highlights the increasing number of Indian private hospitals that are finding themselves mentioned in travel itinerates and are sought out by more and more foreigners. If industry estimates are to be believed, the size of the medical tourism industry stands at Rs 1,200-1,500 crore (Rs 12-15 billion). The Indian healthcare market is Rs 15 billion and growing at over 30% every year.

“The trend is positive and there’s a great opportunity to leverage the ‘low-cost, high quality model’ that India offers. If you see around the world, there’s a problem with healthcare infrastructure everywhere. While there’s a problem of insurance cover in the US, UK and Canada have a long waiting time. These put a lot of stress on patients and India fits the bill for its value for money expertise. The tie-up with the ‘Incredible India’ campaign and start of medical visas will go a long way in promoting India as the best healthcare destination,” says Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director, Indraprastha Apollo, New Delhi, which has seen a steady rise in patient volumes from abroad.