NEW DELHI, India – If Bangalore seems tough to reach, Bangkok will beep on the hospital radar.
India’s large potential in medical tourism is being blunted by a thicket of restrictive rules for such visitors and lack of awareness campaigns overseas, according to a study that warns of losing out to smaller countries like Thailand that have easier regulations.
Around 1.55 lakh such tourists came to India in 2010 but the number is seen as just a sliver of the Rs 4,000-crore global medical tourism market, says the study conducted by Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management and commissioned by the tourism ministry.
Thailand is one of the world’s top draws, getting over 12 lakh such visitors each year. Singapore, where even politicians and stars like Amar Singh and Rajinikanth opt for treatment, fares better than India with 3.74 lakh.
For India, the biggest problem is what the report dubs a “faulty” medical visa policy. The rules allow only three entries a year, with a mandatory two-month gap between two entries. So an in-bound patient who travels for consultation with doctors has to wait two months for treatment.
Another irritant is the requirement for such foreign visitors to report to government officials personally, a problem in cases of sickness. “The government should review the rule of personally reporting to FRROs (foreigners’ regional registration offices) and devise a more realistic and humane way,” the report says.
Communication problems are no less daunting. “There were many tourists from non-English speaking countries such as Africa and West Asia. Hospital staff were not able to communicate properly with them. They are also disappointed with lodging and boarding facilities,” the report says.
As solutions, the study suggests that brochures in various languages of the world be circulated through consulates and tour operators.
According to the study, 51 per cent of the medical tourists are Africans. West Asia comes next, with 35 per cent. South Asians comprise only 10 per cent.
The problems threaten to erode India’s USP — a shorter waiting time for patients compared to the developed countries. Also, many such tourists get treated here for ailments and through medical procedures generally not covered by medical insurance in developed world.
Over 80 per cent of the medical tourists have no insurance and pay for their own treatment, which means the problems will hurt them more and they will flock to other nations.
The largest number of such patients, over 30 per cent, come for cardiac treatment.
“The government should streamline the entire system. The hospitals should be graded and a government-endorsed list should be available across the world so patients can avoid fly-by-night establishments,” said Neelam Moha, director of Medanta Institute of Liver Transplantation in Gurgaon.