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A fantasy case for slipped disc tourism

With the Airbus offering non-stop flights to India, medical tourism can be very easily promoted, writes Narayanan Madhavan.

india Updated: Dec 07, 2006 16:02 IST

A recent story in The New York Times confirmed something I discovered first hand a couple of years ago: it is possible to recover from a slipped disc with rest and recuperation, and surgery may not necessarily be the best or only option.

The doctor had suggested surgery, as I lay writhing in pain after four days of physiotherapy showed not much improvement. But friendly advice came in from experienced friends about avoiding surgery and a seasoned orthopaedic recommended intensive physiotherapy, which really worked. I was laid up in bed for two months, catching up on reading and music, andas I got better and better, I regained my confidence.

But then, I had too many things I could take for granted. My office was kind enough to grant me paid medical leave, my family members were supportive.

I had an extremely affordable nurse who dropped by once a day to give me injections, and a physiotherapist who provided excellent treatment for less than Rs 500 a session. I was taken to the physio by a driver who cost less than Rs 4,000 per month.

Now, imagine for a moment that I am an American, who makes upwards of $10,000 a month, roughly equivalent to Rs 4.5 lakhs when converted into rupees. This person has slimmer chancesof getting long leave, and simply cannot afford to hire a driver, employ a physiotherapist, or get a nurse to visit him at the kind of cost I did.

Every now and then we hear of medical tourism, and I can usually only think of cost-effective heart surgery or treatment of serious diseases. Or else, it means ayurvedic massages.

My back-of-the-envelope number-crunching tells me that slipped disc patients from the West can be lured to India with the promise of combining a holiday with recuperation and medical attention.

With Airbus’s much-delayed A-380 and Boeing’s 777s offering non-stop flights to India, I can imagine that at Rs 100,000 for a return ticket, we can get patients to fly into India on aircraft with interiors designed for medical tourists.

At less than $80 a day, a slipped-disc patient can get attention from a nurse, phyisotherapist or an orthopaedician, in addition to good, clean boarding.

At $80 a day, a 60-day treatment should cost around Rs 215,000 per head, and including air fare, that should be less than Rs. 300,000 – That would be less than $7,000 for two months. For an American, that would mean an attractive deal.

If you throw in some dental treatment and entertainment, the deal becomes more attractive. Better still, broadband connections and secretarial help can help knowledge workers operate from anywhere, and US executives can talk their employers into telecommuting from India (and in the process, get a first-hand taste of outsourcing). Throw in some yoga, and you are done!

I am not sure if I got all those numbers right, but my experience tells me that good packaging can help a patient from New York’s Wall Street land up in India and gain on many fronts.

Oh, they can always see the Taj Mahal or the Infosys Campus in Bangalore before they fly back, this time with their seats upright and belts fastened.

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First Published: Dec 07, 2006 16:02 IST