Outbound Souk | 2017-03-17

India leading the way for Medical Tourism


Medical Tourism in India is booming and there are reports aplenty to back the claim. To quote a 2015 report by Grant Thornton, India’s medical tourism market, then valued at $3 billion, at present, is projected to touch $8 billion by 2020. The same report goes on to say that price is the main motivator for 80 per cent of patient movements.



An interesting thing that questions the whole premise that 80 per cent medical tourism is propelled by cost, is challenged when we look at these statistics provided by IIWMTA, India International Wellness & Medical Tourism Association (refer inset).

While Bangladesh and Afghanistan, in that order, contribute majorly to Medical Tourism in India, the numbers from US and UK are abysmal. So is it proximity that matters, the lack of comparable facilities in the countries of origin or is it a lack of awareness about  India’s immense and highly competent medical care capabilities, is something that needs looking into.



Our panellists had similar answers when asked about the countries that led the Medical Tourism traffic for them. With a few variations, they agreed that In SAARC countries, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan lead the way, for Africa, which is another major feeder market, tourists travel from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia,Tanzania and Sudan. Oman, and Iraq represent the ME while Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Turkmenistan lead the way for the GIS region.


D Arun Kumar, Founder and Chief Executive, Mediescapes India one of the pioneer companies in Medical Tourism in India– shares, “When we started it was essentially Americans and British patients till 2009-10.  Australians, Africans, Afghanistan, Pakistani, SE Asians and patients from the ME followed. Nordic and BENLUX countries are joining the list given the strong publicity and marketing efforts abroad in new regions.”


When asked about what led to this shift, Kumar adds, “It is due to access to excellent services now available to US citizens just across the border in New Mexico, as well as South America.  The UK patients have shifted loyalties to France, Germany and Poland.”



Sunil Kapur, Head Sales, Fortis Healthcare Limited lists oncology treatment, transplants (kidney, liver, bone marrow), neuro-spine surgeries, orthopaedic surgeries, cosmetic procedures and fertility treatments as the major procedures overseas patients come to Fortis for.

Asif Shah, Head - Branding & Medical Tourism Events and Conferences, Metro Hospitals includes angioplasty, vascular surgeries, bypass surgery, thoracic surgeries, neuro and spine surgeries, joint replacements, bariatric surgeries, kidney transplant, GI surgeries, radiation, medical and surgical oncology along with cochlear implants in his list.

Nandini Basu Phookan, Managing Director and Founder, Vaidyaa sees patients coming in mostly for surgical procedures urology, orthopaedic and cardiology as well as witnesses a lot of interest in fertility treatments.


Kumar, yet again, informs how treatments for medical travellers have evolved over the years for Mediescapes. “When we started providing healthcare facilitation, it was mostly for dental, cosmetic, spinal surgeries and hip and knee replacements. Later the demand  for breast cancer, bone marrow transplants, kidney and liver transplants took prominence. Nowadays, the mushrooming of branded Super Specialty Hospitals in gateway cities has raised the demand for a plethora of invasive and non-invasive treatments,” shares Kumar.



Mediescapes started in 2005 when Kumar, a travel professional happened  to help a patient who collapsed on the airport and took him to Apollo, where he was paid a commission by the hospital. Basu was providing physicians on call to patients in Kolkata, when doctors prompted her to facilitate foreign patients and hence started her journey in 2013. It seems both were addressing a need gap in a market where there is a shortage of professionally managed companies. Though a lot of medical tourism companies have mushroomed, a chunk of them are inexperienced and have no real background in either healthcare or travel.


Both Basu and Kumar feel that the market is full of unethical agents and touts, who have ended up cheating unwary patients and it is recommended that patients go through established companies, who have a strong presence on social media and are backed up by client testimonials.


Given the same, hospitals have opened special desks to cater the needs of international patients. Metro Hospitals offers a range of services to international medical tourists shares Shah, “Not just Medical Tourism, India is a great destination for tourism, we often promote both of them together, this helps in leveraging footfalls. Providing doctors allow, we provide the facility for sightseeing as well as shopping assistance. “The hospital also extends food choices that the patients are familiar with, in addition to on-demand food specially prepared by trained chefs. Local phones and internet are also provided so that they may stay connected with their families. The hospital also provides translators.


 “We,at Metro hospitals, also offer online consultation to overseas patients to help arrive at the right treatment and make their trip to India fruitful. Maximum work is done before their arrival. The same goes for post procedure or treatment follow-ups, which are done online,” elaborates Shah.


Fortis also has similar services for medical tourists. “For medical tourists, there is a dedicated window of contact at all Fortis hospitals, through which round the clock service is provided to them. Our services extend from complimentary airport transfers, accommodation and food assistance to the provision of a local mobile sim card and city tours among other things,” informs Kapur.



All the stakeholders agree that India has immense potential due to a large number of factors. A recent report by Patients Without Borders lists India as the top destination for medical savings vis a vis the US. Basu feels that the India advantage stems from the highly qualified healthcare providers in the country.


Kumar, while sharing his decade-long experience, feels that two major advantages work in the favour of India, “Firstly the low cost of medical services has resulted in a rise in the country’s medical tourism, attracting patients from across the world. Moreover, India has emerged as a hub for R&D activities for international players due to its relatively low cost of clinical research. Secondly, while the cost is significantly lower, world-class service is available at patients’ convenience with almost no waiting time.”



The Government of India has been extremely supportive of the sector and has recently recognised Medical Tourism as niche tourism and has also introduced a Medical Visa to expedite travel of international patients for treatment. A national healthcare portal was established in 2015 to provide authentic information about healthcare professionals in India. The Marketing Development Assistance Scheme (MDA) from Ministry of Tourism provides financial support to approved tourism service providers. MoT also actively promotes the sector at international platforms such as World Travel Mart London, ITB Berlin and others.


Shah adds to the list, “The Indian Healthcare Federation (IHF) has prepared a guide featuring select Healthcare Service Providers which they are promoting on the Ministry of Tourism website. Organisations like Services Export Promotion Council (SPEC), Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) and Federation (FICCI) have taken special initiatives by supporting and conducting many International Medical Tourism Exhibitions and Conferences,” he informs. “The government has been very supportive, “ agrees Kapur and goes on to say, “Indian embassies overseas, are quite prompt in servicing requests for visas to medical tourists, barring a few.” Kumar feels that MDA assistance is good for promoting India as a favoured medical tourism destination over its closest rival Dubai Medical City, yet much more needs to be done if India wants to remain as a favoured Medical Value Travel destination of choice.



Even though the sector is fast emerging and has excellent players, it is facing challenges akin to any emerging sector.  When asked about the challenges they are facing, Kapur shares, “The rules around Medical visas need to be relaxed.” Shah feels that multiple entry visas were needed for medical travellers to enable follow-up checkups and procedures. Shah also feels that the unethical practice of swapping patients to other hospitals by unauthorised translators needs to be checked. “It should be made mandatory that the patient should get treated, or visit at least once, the hospital from where they have received visa invitation letters,” insists Shah. Basu feels that medical visa on arrival would be a good initiative to avoid losing tourists to countries like Thailand and Singapore where there is lesser or no waiting period. Basu also feels that as medical facilitators, they often face resistance from patients. “Local presence is always preferable, so we are looking for local partners across various countries to support us. There also seems to be a strong mindset against medical care facilitators like us, and we often face stiff resistance in other countries, where they would rather speak directly to the hospitals,” she elaborates.


Shah strongly feels that India is not living up to its full potential, “One common problem that I experienced after visiting countries for Medical Tourism is the lack of proper promotions by Health Care Providers and Government agencies. Information dissemination in potential countries should be done at a faster pace.” He says that a panellist at the IMTD conference in Ethopia was amazed at the quality of healthcare facilities provided by India. “She further commented that majority of the patients travel to Thailand even though it is expensive. Indian hospitals are late here, you should have come much earlier at this event,” informs Shah.



Kumar opines, “The Government of India should play a larger role by acting both as a regulator and as a facilitator. As a regulator, the government should institute a uniform grading and accreditation system for healthcare service providers to build International patient’s trust, whereas as a facilitator, it should encourage private investment in medical infrastructure. The government also needs to reduce rates, taxes and duties pertaining to medical equipment and services, reduce instabilities and enhance security measures.”


Kumar shares a number of suggestions to boost the sector, “We want the government to institute exclusive medical tourism fairs in source countries on same models as Indian Leisure Tourism Fairs and road shows that are periodically carried by MoT.  A uniform pricing model and MediCity Hub on models like Dubai Medical Hub or Singapore MediHub need s to be created. Medical Tourism should be included in the MSME sector and grants should be provided to serious players such as a handful and us others who have proven capability to promote Medical Tourism to India.”


 He further suggests that the government should invest in training and development of doctors, nurses and other paramedical staffs tailoring to needs of International patients, invest in the accommodation sector, reduce bureaucratic roadblocks, encourage the development and availability of good language translators and adopt a customer-oriented approach in the promotion of medical tourism.


Kapur feels that government resources overseas should be optimally used to promote the sector, “More initiatives are required from the health and tourism ministries to help reach out to their counterpart government bodies across the target markets.”

He elaborates, “Government bodies also need to market India as a safer destination to enhance perceptions. Indian embassies overseas can be vital in promoting the numerous high-quality healthcare options and the state of the art hospitals available in India.”


Shah feels visibility and customer satisfaction are the keys to success. “More events and promotions with due assistance should be organised with a frequency of at least one big event per month. Streamlining and competitive pricing policies are equally important, pricing along with the quality of healthcare is an important decisive factor and hence, should be regularised,” suggests Shah. He further adds, “The promotion of Medical Tourism requires the adoption of a customer oriented approach. The approach should be shifted from customer satisfaction to customer delight.”



While the sector is growing Medical Tourism or Medical Value Travel is still a long way from its full potential. The country needs an intensive plan, a well-defined roadmap both for long-term and short-term promotion, as well as a strategy that is backed by budgetary support.


Excellent initiatives have been taken, the need is for more bodies involving all stakeholders, government and private players to come together jointly to promote this sector.


A customised approach while offering services and price points to target markets also might be a strategy worth looking at.


Country-wise foreigner arrival on medical & medical attendant visa during 2016


Medical Attendant

Medical Visa














































Russian Federation






Saudi Arabia



Sri Lanka















United Kingdom



United States Of America












*The figure is purely approximate collected from various medical travel facilitators, Government data, and other sources through IIWMTA research and sample collection.




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