India’s healthcare sector gains global popularity

The nation’s growing healthcare sector, backed by a vast pool of experienced professionals and the latest in technologies, infrastructure and resources, has started gaining popularity amongst international patients traffic; The high success rate of the broad variety of treatments offered in India along with their low costs have led to a steady rise in footfalls of medical tourists

April 30, 2018

The Indian medical tourism industry, currently valued at around US$3 billion, is expected to touch US$8 billion by 2020, backed by the growing popularity of advanced medicare as well as traditional medicines

India’s healthcare sector has seen rising investment in development of hospitals, research and development activities, technology upgradation, training of human resources and in building of support ecosystem

India has about 37 multi-speciality hospitals which are JCI accredited and 520 approved by NABH; New startups are employing the latest innovations to help healthcare professionals better serve patients in India

NITI Aayog has identified inflow of medical tourists as a major source of forex earning and is designing a roadmap to ensure significant growth by 2020; Over 2014-16, medical tourist footfall increased by over 130 per cent

In March 2018, Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest urban settlement, had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a consortium of three hospitals from the port town of Mangaluru, in the South Indian state of Karnataka, to facilitate medical treatment for its citizens. Through this arrangement, the Mangaluru hospitals, including a cancer institute, will help in capacity building for healthcare facilities in Mombasa, train their laboratory technicians and provide advanced medical care to Kenyans who come to India for treatment. This agreement between Mombasa and Mangaluru happened owing to the efforts of a consortium of private hospitals in the Indian city called Health Tourism Task Force that lobbied with Mombasa authorities to promote the hospitals’ state-of-the-art facilities and leading healthcare professionals.

This is just another instance of how Indian private hospitals are leveraging the booming medical tourism market in the country. In the last three years, medical tourism market in India has expanded exponentially: incoming medical tourists jumped by more than 130 per cent to over 427,000 over 2014-16. KJ Alphons, India’s minister of state for tourism, had recently said that India was among the world’s top six Medical Value Travel (MVT) destinations, which also include Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Mexico. Medical tourism into India, backed by both advanced healthcare services as well as traditional medicines, has gradually made the transition to Medical Value Travel (MVT). Thus, , the Indian medical tourism market, currently pegged at around US$3 billion, is expected to touch US$8 billion by 2020.

Government initiatives to boost healthcare

The private and advanced healthcare space in India has come up on the back of an existingstate-supported health care system. Some of the premier healthcare institutes in India have included the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), among others. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has steadily allocated budgets for development of technologies and innovations to treat diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis. As a result, the industry is growing at a tremendous pace owing to its strengthening coverage, services and increasing expenditure by public as well private players. The total healthcare industry size is expected to touch US$280 billion by 2020 from US$160 billion in 2017. Private and foreign companies have also targeted mergers, acquisitions and investments to drive growth and gain new markets.

The Healthcare industry–which comprises hospitals, medical devices, clinical trials, outsourcing, telemedicine, medical tourism, health insurance and medical equipment– has seen a spike in activities. Hospital and diagnostic sector attracted Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) worth US$5 billion between April 2000 and December 2017. The rising foreign interest further enlarged the growth of MVT, a value driven and patient-centric initiative, which involves facilitators, hospitals and other stakeholders offering value-added services to a medical tourist such as handling visa procedures, travel and accommodation. The MVT concept is slowly gaining popularity across the globe since it promises advanced treatment options at affordable cost to patients, creates goodwill and also generates income for the country. According to a 2017 knowledge report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the country is emerging as a major MVT hub in the world.

India’s new-age facilitators join forces

New age startups from India’s vast research and development pool are emerging to grab opportunities in the booming MVT space. Take the case of the medECUBE Healthcare for instance. Preferring to call themselves “Care Coordination Concierge” and not just a medical tourism service provider, the two-year-old Gurugram-based company has tied up with multiple hospital chains including Max Healthcare, Fortis Healthcare, Apollo Hospitals, Medanta and Artemis Hospitals. medECUBE, which carries the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare (NABH) tag, has raised about US$4 million in funding from Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Artiman White Space Investments. The company, which provides access to top doctors and hospitals across the country, earns a majority of their revenues from foreign tourists.

An increasing number of hospitals across India are augmenting their infrastructure, investing heavily in the latest technologies and roping in the best talents from the field to showcase their services to an international clientele.

Another startup Vaidam Health, which raised funds from Singapore-based 4CE Ventures, had entered the sector in May 2016. These companies invest in establishing outreach in countries from where people are likely to come to India for medical purposes. They conduct digital marketing campaigns and tie-up with ministries and missions abroad to sign up medical tourists. The leading private and public medical health institutions in India meanwhile such as Apollo, Fortis, Max, Columbia Asia, Manipal Hospitals, among others, reserve 10-20 per cent of their beds for medical tourists. And, has become increasingly focused on providing a “holistic approach” to medical tourists. Indian hospitals efforts to attract foreign medical tourists have helped in improved income generation, which in turn has led to increased investment in bettering services and infrastructure.

Leading medical care and accreditation

Leading hospital chains such as Apollo and Fortis go to great lengths to provide luxurious comforts for medical tourists. Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI) in Gurugram, for instance, boasts of a five-star lobby, theatre, pool, gym, spa, retail outlet and bakeries that are meant to comfort visitors. An increasing number of hospitals and chains across India are now augmenting their infrastructure, investing heavily in the latest technologies and roping in the leading talents in the field to showcase their services to an international clientele. The quality of services and infrastructure of the Indian health scene has gradually improved and is close to global standards. A big part of the appeal has also been the competitive cost structure when compared with the services offered in Europe and America. All this has led to a steady rise in medical tourism volumes and revenue inflows.

Most hospitals are now entering into collaborations with traditional Indian medicines, comprising Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH). Integrated Wellness and Holistic Healing centers are coming up in tandem  with mainstream health care to offer “cross-offerings” in medical care. Accreditation helps build confidence about the quality of care provided and India has seen an increasing number of hospitals being recognised by industry regulators. There are multiple international organizations providing accreditations–such as the Joint Commission International (JCI), which is considered a gold standard for quality healthcare. While the JCI is globally recognized, hospitals certified by Indian national boards such as the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) also adhere to global standards. India has about 37 JCI accredited and 520 hospitals cleared by the NABH.

India and the growing MVT world market

The global medical travel market is currently estimated at US$40-60 billion with 12 to 14 million travelers taking medical trips each year. Costa Rica, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the USA are considered to be the top destinations for medical travel. Meanwhile, Indonesia is considered to be the largest outbound medical travel market with 600,000 Indonesians spending an estimated US$1.2 billion on healthcare outside their country, quotes the FICCI report. The FICCI paper suggests that India should tap territories such as Indonesia, Russia and Central Asia to leverage its inherent strengths in medical specialties covering oncology, transplants, orthopaedics, spine surgery, infertility, weight loss surgery, dental care, among others. Currently, most MVT patients come to India from Afghanistan, Iraq, Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Recognizing the potential of this robust market, the Indian Government has been actively trying to augment the industry to attract more medical tourists. Four ministries–Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Ministry of Ayush–along with the Services Export Promotion Council (SEPC) and NABH are involved in promoting India as the preferred destination for medical tourism. The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), the government’s policy think tank , has identified MVT as a major source of income and is designing a roadmap to ensure the industry’s significant growth by 2020. For years, Singapore and Thailand have been the market leaders in Asia, providing medical care to patients from across the globe at a fraction of the cost in the West. However, over the past decade, the rising popularity of Chennai, New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai as the international medical hubs has firmly placed India at par with its Asian neighbors.