Thirty children from Afghanistan are admitted in the paediatric surgery ward of new Delhi's Fortis Escorts Heart Institute. These kids - born with congenital defects such as a hole in their heart - are here for their heart repair surgeries. Next month, 25 children from Tanzania will arrive for complicated heart surgeries.
Though the number of patients arriving from Europe, North America and Australia have gone down over the past five years, India has emerged as a hub for patients from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Indian hospitals now have tie-ups with local hospitals and clinics, where patients are screened and then sent to India for treatment in groups.
"There's about a 30% growth in foreign patients coming to India every year. In the last one year in the NCR hospitals alone, Fortis Healthcare got over 6,000 patients," said Anas Abdul Wajid, chief, International Sales and Marketing, Fortis Healthcare.
US patients, he says, prefer to travel to the countries in Latin America for cheaper treatment probably because of geographic proximity and quality healthcare. "The top five regions from where most of our patients come from are Iraq, Nigeria, Congo, Uzbekistan and the SAARC countries mainly Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh," he said.
Hospitals are using innovative methods to woo foreign clients. While Fortis offers international cuisines suiting the patient palates, Apollo and Max Healthcare have translators to help people who do not speak Hindi or English to get around. Besides assisting them in visa and travel arrangements, hospitals also offer sight-seeing opportunities to the family members accompanying the patient.
Apollo Hospitals also received close to 30,000 patients in 2011-12. This year, they have received close to 15, 000 till last September. "Medical tourism has been one of the fastest growing sectors in India. It is primarily because of quality care and cost effectiveness," said Anjali Bissell Kapoor, special initiatives, Apollo Hospitals.
"Every year, patients from over 120 countries come to us for treatment. We are receiving patients for cardiac ailments, joint replacements, spine surgery, cosmetic surgery, bariatric procedures, cochlear implants, oncology, organ transplants (kidney and liver) and several other procedures," said Kapoor, adding, "We offer more than 1298 surgical procedures."
Even Medanta, a super-specialty in Gurgaon, which started just two years ago, has received over 2,500 patients this year. "Last year we got about 1,850 overseas patients. There is 15%-18% rise in international patients since our inception and I am sure the numbers will swell, as the popularity of the hospital grows," said Navneet Malhotra, head of International Marketing and Patient Services at Medanta. "Very high recognition of Indian healthcare worldwide, and that is what attracts patients to India," he said.
Even BL Kapur super-speciality hospital, which witnessed a major overhaul about two years ago, has seen a spurt of foreign tourists. "Besides special offers like packages and discounted rates, we have a special lounge dedicated to them. There is zero waiting time when they arrive, logistics support including visa and airport facilitation, and special personalised attention by doctors make it a comfortable stay for our international patients," said Dr Praneet Kumar, CEO, BLK.
"The government has been playing an enabling role in promoting medical tourism and in the years ahead we are likely to see a further surge in this trend," said Kumar. The hospital gets an average of 250 patients for hospitalisation every month.
DS Rana, chairman, Gangaram Hospital, which got 1,126 patients, across specialties this year, says India's English-speaking population acts a comfort zone for foreigners. "About 60% of doctors in India's leading Indian hospitals have international qualifications, thus increasing the acceptance and comfort levels among international patients. Tourist destinations and alternative medicine are also factors responsible for India having edge over other neighbouring countries," he said.