A new hub for medical tourism?

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With leading healthcare players foraying into the state and the government’s growing focus on the sector, Rajasthan may be the next go-to destination for medical tourists in the country

‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or ¥çÌçÍÎñÃæô ÖÃæ is a Sanskrit verse which means that ‘The guest is equivalent to God.’ It is taken from an ancient Hindu scripture which became a part of the code of conduct for the Indian society. Atithi Devo Bhava prescribes the dynamics of the host-guest relationship and building on this, the Government of India launched the campaign ‘Incredible India’ with the same mantra to attract more tourists to the heritage land. India has always
enjoyed attention from travellers around the globe for culture and its healing powers.

The World Travel & Tourism Council calculated that tourism industry in India generated Rs 6.4 trillion or 6.6 per cent of the nation’s GDP in 2012. The sector is predicted to grow at an average annual rate of 7.9 per cent from 2013 to 2023. A major chunk of this share would come from medical tourism, estimated to be worth $3.9 billion in 2016 and is projected to be $8 billion by 2020, according to a report on ‘A Multi-trillion Dollar Opportunity for Global Symbiotic Growth’. World over, people have been travelling offshores in the name of health, seeking higher quality healthcare services and standards, more affordable medical treatment as well as shorter waiting times. To fulfill these expectations, patients are willing to travel across the globe to receive treatments that can give them value for money. Recognising the demand, India is taking steps to attract these tourists and already ranks amongst the most popular medical tourism destinations. Being cost competitive, compared to its peers in Asia and Western countries, the cost of surgery is about one-tenth of that in the US or Western Europe. It is also among the few nations that offer the first world healthcare facilities at third world prices. Nowadays, patients are travelling to India for more planned surgeries that do not involve any emergency action and thus have a long waiting time in the home country. India, on the other hand, provides quick healthcare service which brings more patients to the country. These are among the factors that attribute to the growth of the industry. While the medical tourism industry in India is established in quite a lot of places including Delhi, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Telangana, there are still many unexplored regions that can be potential hubs in the near future.

Rajasthan: The next medical tourism hub

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Nitin Saraswat

Being sixth in terms of attracting foreign tourists and a favourable tourist destination, the colourful state of Rajasthan compels tourists to flock here with the spirit of Padharo Mhare Des which literally means ‘Welcome to my land.’ Now, it offers much more than just culture and heritage by gradually making provisions to upgrade itself into a much sought after medical tourist destination. The major reason for the state to flourish in this segment is the fact that it has always been tourist friendly. The presence of existing multi speciality hospitals is aiding in building the state as a medical hub as well. The state is also widely known for treatment through traditional forms of medication including AYUSH, a major pull factor for medical tourists.

While enquiring about the go-to place for medical tourism in the state, we found out that the ‘pink city’ Jaipur tops the chart. Understanding the economic boost that medical tourism could bring into the state, the Government of Rajasthan is putting in concerted efforts along with the private sector majorly in Jaipur, which is a part of the golden triangle, a tourist circuit which connects the national capital Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Be it by offering concession for acquiring land or easing the policy procedures for hospitals, the state government is encouraging multispeciality hospitals to set up their base.

In addition, the government is also promoting public private partnership (PPP) models to provide more efficient and cost-effective solutions. One such example is Manas Arogya Sadan Heartcare & Multi-Specialty Hospital in Jaipur, which runs on a PPP model with Metro Institute of Medical Sciences.

Nitin Saraswat, DGM, Manas Arogya Sadan Heartcare & Multi-Specialty Hospital, shared that they have plans to tap medical tourists aggressively in the coming financial year.”

Recent developments

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Swadeep Srivastava

Although the government is aiming to transform the state into the new medical tourism capital, aggressive efforts from both the private and public sector are still needed. The state, especially Jaipur, is a centre for many multi-speciality chain of hospitals, which cater to all specialities including cardiology, oncology, orthopaedics, dental, organ transplants and cosmetology. In addition, there are new chains like Bombay Hospital which are burgeoning.

Swadeep Srivastava, Managing Partner, India Virtual Hospital  informs, “Rajasthan is expected to attract more medical tourists as the human resources and infrastructure in both the government and private hospitals have developed rapidly in the last few years here. Experts and government officials believe that there is  scope for 25 to 30 per cent growth in the medical tourism sector in the state in view of low costs involved in the healthcare facilities and attraction to the historical monuments and tourist spots.”

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Sunil Kapur

Sunil Kapur, Head, Sales, Fortis Healthcare also highlights, “There is a significant flow of international tourists to the state of Rajasthan which is a sizeable target audience for the hospitals. Hospitals are reaching out to international assistance and travel companies to launch insurance covers, which can be used for preventive health check-ups and any medical emergencies if required. For tertiary care, efforts are being made to reach out to markets like Afghanistan and Pakistan for planned movement of patients to the hospitals in Rajasthan.”

While many of these hospitals pointed out that medical tourism is still in the nascent stage in the state, they all emphasised on the potential that the industry holds. Although this potential is vast, actions taken to exploit it are still primitive. Some, among these hospitals are actively putting in efforts to get the first mover advantage by strategically planning the next step. Bhagwan Mahaveer Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (BMCHRC) is one such hospital.

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Dr SC Pareek

Dr SC Pareek, Medical Director, BMCHRC announced, “We have got a new building sanctioned by the Government of Rajasthan and one wing in the building is solely allocated to medical tourism. The infrastructure for the wing will be infused with luxurious facilities to make international patients feel more comfortable. We are already in talks with Jaipur Development Authority and the approvals are expected any time soon. In addition, the hospital is NABH accredited and has received all the required licences from the state authorities. We are investing a sum of Rs 20 crores which will cover the equipment, building and furniture cost for the wing. Another Rs 30 crores will be invested for radiology and oncology equipment that are already in the procurement stage. The wing is supposed to be functional in the next two years.”

Multispeciality chains like Apollo and Fortis are already generating around 10 per cent of their revenue through medical tourism and this share is bound to increase in the next couple of years.

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Challenges

Despite the advancements made for the development of medical tourism in Rajasthan, there are some fundamental issues hindering, which include difficulty in commuting due to lack of transportation services. Dr Pareek added that many medical tourists who visit India do not travel beyond the NCR region as it offers more affordable commute facilities and travelling to Rajasthan involves higher air fares. As the capital of India enjoys this competitive edge, it is certainly a laggard for the state of Rajasthan. Another hurdle for medical tourism to thrive is that the roadmap for it is still in the designing stage.

Kapur indicated, “Support from the state administration for promoting Rajasthan as medical tourism hub is required. There is already a strong wave which has highlighted Rajasthan as a tourist  destination. Medical expertise offered by the state needs to be added to this propaganda so that more and more tourists can look at the state for medical treatment as well. We have been working with the Ministry of Tourism and bodies like FICCI and CII to push medical tourism. Positive outcomes on the same are expected.”

Thus concerted efforts from both private and public sector will catalyse the growth of medical tourism in the state.

Road ahead

Medical tourism sector is much diversified and is full of opportunities. In order to shape the industry better, the government should take more initiatives to harmonise policies and rules to provide ease in entry for new hospitals. With  regards to attracting more patients, the government can aid the industry in streamline the  immigration process for medical visitors by setting up a single window approval system for granting visas along with improving air capacity. Initialising government programmes and arranging separate care facilities for foreign patients even in public hospitals can help generate much more revenue,  which can eventually improve the quality of care for domestic patients in the state. As far as the private sector is concerned, the chain of hospitals need to aggressively start exploring the latest dynamics and trends, and thus strategically act upon them. Uniform price band in major specialities needs to be made public, which would facilitate foreign patients seeking treatments in India. These moves will have a positive impact in the revenue growth of medical tourism sector. The growth of this industry will clearly enhance GDP growth and result in generation of more medical and tourism-related jobs. To sum up, Rajasthan’s medical tourism industry is a gold mine waiting around to be explored.

mansha.gagneja@expressindia.com

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