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Medical tourism

A medical trip to India as easy as planning a holiday

Idris Kabir Maska, aNigerian resident was on the lookout for the place to undertake a cochlear implant procedure for his child. His search ended when he hit upon MediConnectIndia's contacts.

"The adequacy of information and assistance I was provided with helped me zero in on India," Maska said.

As healthcare turns costlier in developed countries, cost arbitrage and availability of accredited facilities are drawing hundreds to India. The Indian medical tourism market is expected to grow from $3 billion at present to around $8 billion by 2020, as per a CII-Grant Thornton white paper.

Witnessing an annual growth of 30% in medical tourism, India set to become the no. 1 destination.

From aggregating various options to offering value-added services such accommodation and sightseeing, players in the space are going to the extent of making a medical trip for a visitor as convenient as a vacation.

Take Pune-based PlanMyMedicalTrip which has about 1,500 partnerships with hospitals and doctors in India and Turkey. The company recently got angel funding of `1.25 crore and has provided services to about 1,000 patients. "We are an online marketplace for medical tourism, not a discovery platform," founder and CEO, PlanMyMedicalTrip, Anurav Rane said.

"All details are provided upfront on the website and on payment of a token amount, one can immediately buy a package/treatment with a hospital at the convenience of a click," he added. The company also provides concierge medical services like visas, hotel and accommodation and sight-seeing as value add services.

MediConnectIndia, which gets about 15 patients a month, provides a list of various treatments with categories like cancer treatment packages and cosmetic surgery packages with the pricing details.

Walking clients through every step right from when they plan to leave their home country till they are back home after the surgery, the Delhi based company provides medical opinion and evaluations, suggestions with details of fees and stay besides post-operative care. "Most customers do extensive research online. Our role is to schedule doctor appointments, arrange transport between the airport, hotel and hospital and aid in scheduling post-operative check-ups," an official from MediConnectIndia said.

While lower costs have always buoyed India's position as a favoured medical tourist spot, cost is not the only reason for drawing people. "Besides cost, it is the quality of care and a personalised experience," said Raghunath P, facility director, Fortis Malar Hospital said.

The international patient care team at Fortis Malar is trained to understand the culture of various countries starting with basic etiquettes of greeting a person to their festivals.

"The idea is to create a personalised interaction with the patients. The West is process driven and people choose to come to India because we adopt a holistic approach," he said. The business model works on referral fees from doctors and commissions on treatments. "We enter into MoUs (memorandum of understanding) with various hospitals, which helps us get the best rates which are 10%-40% cheaper than the prevailing rates," Rane said.

With non-metros offering lower rates for the same level of medical quality, care and service, Rane foresees substantial business growth in such cities. However, Raghunath holds a divergent view.

"Availability of direct flights has a significant bearing on the decision of the location. While metros are connected directly, non-metros do not provide the same connectivity," said Raghunath.

Fortis Malar sees an influx of patients from Bangladesh as there is a direct flight to Chennai.

With new opportunities come new challenges. For India, it is about staying up the curve to appease the international audience.

As local areas begin to provide basic surgeries, complicated procedures will bring people to India, says Raghunath.