California resident Barbara Pastal, 47, had been trimming her household expenditure for months to save up for a hip replacement surgery when her husband’s firm cut his pay by 30 per cent in February.
It meant she would have to wait longer to save the $21,000 (Rs 8.5 lakh) that the procedure costs in the US.
“A friend recommended I go to India for the surgery. One of her family members had had a good experience here,” said Pastal, who arrived in India last week and underwent the surgery at a Mumbai clinic. “It’s much cheaper and there is no waiting.”
Pastal said she paid Rs 3.5 lakh for the airfare and hospital expenses, less than half of what the surgery would have cost her at home.
The economic downturn in the West is turning out to be a boon for India’s healthcare sector as many middle-income people look for ways to save amid pay cuts and layoffs.
Medical tourism is not new, but recession has accelerated the trend.
The Wockhardt group of hospitals has seen a 40 per cent increase in such patients in 2008-09 as compared to 2007-08, said Vishal Bali, chief executive officer.
Hiranandani hospital in Powai has seen a 30 per cent increase, said Dr Akash Rajpal, assistant general manager of operations. Delhi's Apollo hospital has also seen a 30 per cent increase in the same period, revealed group medical director Dr Anupam Sibal.
Data released by consulting firm Deloitte said 4.5 lakh medical tourists had visited India in 2007-08. The industry was expected to grow by 35 per cent in 2008-09, it said.
The US in particular is a big source of such tourists because firms there are rolling back healthcare benefits, which means people are left without health cover.
The costs in India are about one third to half of that in the West, depending on the treatment, doctors said.
The more popular procedures are heart-related procedures, orthopaedic surgeries, liver and bone marrow transplants and fertility treatment.
“People are heading to India because medical care here is not just cost-effective but also good,” said Apollo’s Sibal.