India has become a world leader in the medical tourism sector. People are increasingly crossing international borders to seek medical care, known as medical tourism. Medical tourism is described as any activity that involves a foreign visitor traveling and spending at least one night at the destination to rejuvenate, restore or maintain their health through medical intervention.
According to Ministry of Tourism estimates, India recorded 186,644 foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) for medical purposes in 2020, accounting for 7% of total FTAs. The main reasons for medical purposes include the low cost of treatment abroad, the cultural aspect of the healthcare provider, and specific procedures not available in the home country.
Over the past 30 years, the Indian healthcare sector has made great strides as evidenced by the significant advances it has made. Healthcare has been a top revenue contributor and is growing at a rapid pace. Both public and private providers contribute to the health sector. National health policies have played a vital role in recent years to create a more inclusive health system while aiming to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) in a structured way.
India has highly trained medical professionals and state-of-the-art equipment. Medical services and facilities are supported by the World Health Organization and the United States Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, India offers less expensive treatment options than the US and UK without compromising on the quality of healthcare services. Treatment costs in India are about a quarter of those in America.
In terms of alternative medical treatment, the Indian medical treatment systems of yoga, ayurveda, rejuvenation therapy and panchakarma are among the oldest medical treatment methods in the world. The southern state of Kerala has developed medical tourism services as one of its main products to promote tourism in the region.
Based on the 2020 Medical Tourism Index, India is ranked 3rd as the most preferred destination for medical care across the world before COVID. However, in the 2020-21 index, India fell to 10e position in the top 46 countries, 12th in the top 20 global wellness tourism markets, and 5th in the top 10 wellness tourism destinations in Asia-Pacific.
During the nationwide lockdown in India due to the COVID-19 outbreak, planned hospital operations dropped by 80% while unplanned systems dropped by 66%.
In the wake of the pandemic, many healthcare providers have created additional facilities to handle emergency care or offer specialized treatment. Reputable hospitals in India are actively soliciting funds to carry out their growth plans.
Measures taken for revival
The promotion of Ayurveda, Yoga and other Indian systems of medicine in the global market is one of the many measures taken by the government to support India’s emergence as a center of medical tourism. Out of the US$272 million allocated in the 2020-2021 budget, approximately US$381 million has been earmarked for the ministry of AYUSH in the 2021-2022 Union budget. The Roundtable on “Building Brand India” was held in New Delhi in May 2022, and Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Minister of Health, Family Welfare, Chemicals and Fertilizers, attended. took the floor. He highlighted how India is becoming the center of attention for Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Yoga.
Over the next two quarters, traffic and corporate hospital revenue both exceeded pre-pandemic levels. India’s $6 billion medical tourism industry is expected to grow to $13 billion by 2026. Industry experts say that over the past six months, medical tourism has gradually returned to normal.
With international traffic better than it was before the outbreak, the number of foreign patients is expected to increase by 12% in the coming quarters.
Recently, the government revealed its intention to introduce the AYUSH brand. This logo would boost Indian medical tourism industry and give credibility to AYUSH items there. Additionally, it should be noted that 165 countries now offer medical visas and physician assistant visas for those seeking Ayurvedic therapy.
A surge in patient flow is expected as the center strives to make India a destination for wellness and medical travel under the slogan “Heal India”.
For those who come to India specifically for medical treatment, special arrangements have been made. Foreigners traveling to India for medical treatment now have access to a new form of visa called a “medical visa”, according to the Home Ministry. Medical Value Travel is one of 12 champion service sectors that will benefit from a US$641 million special fund established by the government in 2018. The e-tourist visa, introduced in September 2014 to simplify the visa process, was later extended to cover medical visits. The Marketing Development Assistance (MDA) program provides money to licensed tour operators.
India is the most popular location due to its affordable and quality medical care. Cardiac treatment, for example, costs between $40,000 and $60,000 in the United States, $30,000 in Singapore, $12,000 and $15,000 in Thailand, but only $3,000 to $6,000 in India.
According to the medical industry, India, a major source of patients from West Asia, Africa and surrounding regions, has the potential to attract patients from the developed world as well, especially those wishing to avoid long waiting periods for operations and those who are uninsured.
The Indian government is moving forward to make India the number one medical tourism destination in the world, tripling it to $12 billion in 4 years, creating a new industry that generates millions of jobs across all states .