Any travel made to a different location (generally outside one’s own country) with the purpose of undergoing medical treatments is called Medical travel. High cost of treatment, long waiting times and also lack of skilled doctors and hospitals with facilities are some of the main reasons which make people travel abroad.
Medical tourism is also a commonly used term for Medical travel. This name came from the thought that people may also engage in local tourism while travelling for treatment.
India is one of the main global medical travel destinations. As per Government of India data, the number of people arriving in India for medical treatment during years 2016 and 2017 were 427,014 and 495,056 respectively. The year on year growth of around 16% underlines the growing importance of India as a key medical travel destination.
Factors that influence people to go abroad for medical treatment
While there could be many reasons which influence a person’s decision to travel abroad for medical treatment, the key reasons are cost, availability of skilled doctors and hospitals, cultural and language affinities. The priorities or impacts of these factors can vary greatly across different countries or regions. The table below maps these key factors against the priority levels in different regions/countries around the world.
Cost of Treatment
Skill level of doctors
Top class Hospitals
Low waiting time
Alternative medical systems
Proximity/Cultural and language affinity
Why is India a medical travel destination?
The top reasons for the emergence of India as a key destination for medical treatment are
- Affordable cost of medical treatments
- High skill level of doctors in India
- Hospitals with state of the art facilities
- Ready availability of doctors and medical staff
- Alternative medical systems like Ayurveda & Yoga
In addition to the above reasons, there are few other important contributing factors like government policies aimed at easing visa processes, English language skills within India and also India’s reputation as a tourism destination.
1. Affordable cost of medical treatment in India
India has one of the most affordable cost of treatment in the world. One of the main reason for this is the regulations/checks through which the Government of India ensures a cap on the cost for various medical surgeries and procedures. A look at some of the examples mentioned below clearly shows the cost advantage that India offers.
- An allogenic bone marrow transplantation would cost around 800,000 USD in the United States. The same procedure in top hospitals in India will cost between 32,000 to 40,000 USD.
- A kidney transplant would cost upward of 250,000 USD in USA compared to 10,000 USD in India.
- Heart bypass surgery would cost around 38,000 AUD (27,000 USD) in Australia whereas the same procedure would cost between 6,000 – 7,000 USD in India.
- Knee replacement would cost around 25,000 SGD (18,000 USD) in Singapore whereas the same procedure performed by renowned orthopedic surgeons in India would cost between 6,000 USD in India
- Dental Implants for a single tooth would cost around 1,800 GBP (2,300 USD) in the UK compared to 400 USD in India. This is for a single tooth and as normally implants may be required for multiple teeth at one go, the cost difference becomes so much more prominent.
While most of the people in developed countries like US, UK, Singapore, and Australia will be covered under insurance, there is a significant percentage who have no coverage or low coverage (especially for treatments like dental).
2. High skill level of doctors in India
Indian doctors are renowned all over the world for their experience and skill. Many of the top doctors in leading hospitals in the US and Europe are of Indian origin. There are quite a number of doctors who have returned to India after gaining this valuable international exposure and they work currently with the top Indian hospitals. These doctors also travel and conduct medical camps in different countries in Africa, Middle East, South East Asia, and the CIS region.
3. Hospitals with state of the art facilities and equipment
Technology has changed the world in no uncertain terms and the medical field is no exception. Indian hospitals are equipped with best in class technology and systems which compare very well with the top hospitals around the world. Some of these are …
- Robotic surgical systems like DA VINCI® Robotic System and Renaissance TM Robotic Surgical System which enables minimally invasive surgery and is widely used in cancer surgeries, gynecology, urology, cardiology, and spine surgeries.
- CyberKnife® system to treat inoperable tumours
- Minimally invasive joint replacement surgeries
- State of the art Laminar Air Flow & HEPA Filters for infection control
Hospitals also have standard operating procedures and processes as per international standards. India has many hospitals which are certified by JCI (Joint Commission International) which is considered as gold standard in hospital accreditation. NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals) is a certification standard specific to Indian hospitals where the processes and procedures are accredited by International Society for Quality in Healthcare (ISQua).
4. Ready availability of doctors and medical staff
Most of the top multi-specialty hospitals in India will have 200 plus rooms with round the clock availability of doctors and nursing assistants. These hospitals will have multiple departments with a team of doctors led by highly skilled and experienced doctors. All of these ensure that quality attention from doctors and medical staff is timely with close to zero waiting time for treatments including surgeries. This is in stark contrast to some countries where access to doctors is based on the severity of the condition with a long waiting time for many essential treatment procedures.
5. Alternative medical systems like Ayurveda & Yoga
Ayurvedic treatment dates back to more than 3,000 years and is still practiced in India. This makes it the oldest practicing medical system in the world. Ayurveda has a lot to offer in many medical conditions like autoimmune disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis, neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and lifestyle diseases like obesity and depression. Yoga is another famous Indian practice which helps in attaining and maintaining optimal physical and mental health. There is a lot of interest around the world currently in both Ayurveda and Yoga with many travelling to India for treatment and also to learn more about these systems.
Additional factors that medical travellers consider apart from treatment
In addition to the main factors mentioned above, there are quite a few additional factors also which influence the decision to go abroad for medical treatment. These are
Air connectivity: India has many cities which are well connected by air to all the major cities across the world.
Visa regulations: Government of India has introduced an e-visa program which enables citizens of more than 150 countries to get visa within 24-48 hours
Affordable options for accommodation: As most of the treatments/procedures require a significant period of stay outside the hospitals, accommodation can also become a significant cost component. All cities in India have decent hotels and serviced apartments which are available as per the budget and needs of the customers.
Language & Cultural adaptability: India has a large English-speaking population with all the leading hospitals having doctors and staff speaking fluent English. Most of the hospitals have also got translators for Arabic, Swahili and many European languages like Russian, German and French. India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with an 8000-year-old history. All of the major world religions have followers here. Another important attraction is the Indian cuisine which is famous all over the world and has something for every palate. India is also a famous tourist destination with varied options for all kinds of travellers.
Globalisation and increasing awareness through the internet and social media have made the world a smaller place to get around. This has led to more and more people travelling abroad with lesser inhibitions. This is equally applicable in the case of medical travel as can be seen from the consistent increase in the number of people looking for medical care outside of their home country. India is well poised to continue as one of the major destinations for medical travel.