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Sunday, February 11, 2007

'Treated in India' catching on in West

BANGALORE: A liver transplant in the United States costs around $450,000. In India it costs $40,000. If any explanation was required to describe why the Indian medical tourism industry is flourishing, this fact will nail it.

Today Indian medical tourism market is worth $700 million and the projection is that by the year 2010 it will swell to $1 billion.

The key is it is not just the south or west Asian population that is coming here for treatment — the UK/US crowd have also realised the value of coming to India. According to estimates, out of 1.5 lakh international patients who visited India, three-fourths came from US and UK.

There are two factors contributing to this. First, the international community is confident of the quality of Indian healthcare practitioners. It is said that one out of six doctors in the US is an Indian. Second, there are huge cost benefits.

Low-cost cardiac surgery in India costs $4,000-9,000 and in the US as high as $30,000-50,000. An orthopaedic surgery costs as low as $4,500 here with a corresponding surgery in US costing $18,000.

Besides, the cost of comprehensive health check-up for a US patient in India is around $80, which in the US costs $600.

The reasons for indulging in health tours also vary from country to country. Medical tourists from the US are seeking treatment at 1/4th or even 1/8th of the cost at home. From Canada, it is often people who are frustrated by long waiting periods.

The typical UK patient is one who is not able to wait for treatment by the National Health Service and in some cases cannot afford to see a physician in private practice.

And then there are patients coming from countries like Bangladesh, Kenya and Vietnam where it is difficult to get quality treatment.

Says Wockhardt Hospitals CEO Vishal Bali, "What started as a low-cost, low-value medical care destination is today turning into a superspeciality zone.

There is a "Treated in India"brand going around."International patients are coming to India for cardiac surgery, spine correction, hip replacement and other such high value treatments. "The market is growing by 30% a year,"says Bali.

"Another reason why people fly into India for treatment is our holistic approach,"says Apollo Hospitals CEO V P Kamath. "We weave in things like yoga, aromatherapy and ayurveda into our treatment. It's a unique basket."

The majority of the clinical population here speak English and Indian surgeons have world class skills and surgical exposure too.

Another aspect that is helping Indian medical tourism is the fact that there are 50 million uninsured US citizens.

"High insurance premiums have kept a lot of people away from taking health insurance policies in the US,"says Kamath.

The health insurance sector in India, however, does not even cover 10% of the population. "But it will eventually grow.

Already the Indian health insurance market is worth Rs 5,000 crore," says Bali. The growth in health cover would be crucial for the betterment of the domestic MT market.

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