In India, health care is one of the largest sectors, in terms of revenue and employment, and is expanding rapidly. During the 1990s, the Indian health care sector grew at a compound annual rate of 16%. The total value of the sector is more than 34 billion U.S. dollars in 2010 and grew up to 160 billion U.S. dollars in 2017 and was estimated to reach up to a value 372 billion dollars by 2022. A major proportion of this growth is predicted to be attributable to the growth in the business of medical tourism. According to Britannica Medical tourism, also called health tourism, surgical tourism, or medical travel can be defined as the international travel undertaken for the purpose of receiving medical care.
Medical tourism in India has gained momentum over the past few years. According to the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), approximately 150,000 patients arrived in India in 2005 from across the globe for medical treatment in 2016, the number of visitors arrived in the country amounted to 361,000. The medical tourism industry in India was valued at around $3 billion in 2015, and it was expected to grow to $9 billion in 2020 before covid-19 struck.
There are several characteristics that make India an appealing destination for visitors seeking health services. These include its well-trained health practitioners, a large populace of good English-speaking medical staff, a good mix of allopathic and alternative systems of medicine, the availability of super-specialty centers, use of technologically advanced diagnostic equipment, and finally and more importantly, the availability of these premium services at competitive cost.
The costs of comparable treatment in India are on average one-eighth to one-fifth of those in the West. For instance, a cardiac procedure that costs anywhere between US$40,000–60,000 in the United States is priced at US$30,000 in Singapore, US$12,000–15,000 in Thailand and only US$3,000–6,000 in India. Likewise, the associated costs of surgery are also low. A study by the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) showed that India is more cost-competitive than other leading medical tourism destinations like Thailand.
Health services in India have the additional advantage of providing a good mix of allopathic and alternative systems of medicine. For instance, while New Delhi has emerged as a prime destination for cardiac care, Chennai has established a niche for quality eye care, and Kerala and Karnataka have emerged as hubs for state-of-the-art Ayurvedic healing.
The opportunity for profit in this sector has encouraged several large corporations and several non-resident Indians (NRIs) to invest money in setting up super-specialty. These facilities now dominate the upper end of the private sector and cater predominantly to medical tourists and affluent sections of the society.
Even the Government of India has responded promptly to tap the potential of this sector. In its effort to capitalize on this opportunity the Government has undertaken measures to promote India as a ‘global health destination’. The National Health Policy strongly encourages medical facilities to provide services to users from overseas (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare 2002). The Indian Ministry of Tourism has started a new category of visas for medical tourists called the ‘M’ or medical visas. This program that ensures that people who need critical, life-saving treatment should get their visas in a timely manner. Being able to easily obtain a visa is one of the primary reasons that people seeking treatment come from abroad to visit India to get that treatment that is provided at a reasonable price. Having procedures done in a timely manner has saved countless lives, and is likely to save much more in the future.
If the present trend continues, trade in health services will become one of the biggest sectors in India. India has become one of the premiere medical tourism destinations in the world for many good reasons. The lower cost does not mean lower a quality of care. The quality of care compares to that received in any Western country. However, the growth of this sector could pose a potential threat to the already crippled public health system in India