Since the dawn of time man has been accosted with a particular fact which is as unchangeable as the shape of the earth; the fact that his body is fragile and even if proper care is taken of it, it will degenerate due to old age. So, in order to stay away from sickness, ailments and hence prolong his life he has taken the services of wise men or quacks (in the old days) and doctors (in the modern times). But with the onset of modern technology, medical science improved greatly and new methods of treating diseases and ailments came up. Consequently, the local doctors became more able to treat diseases and thus started charging accordingly. The fortunate could pay unlike the average person who sometimes could and sometimes couldn’t; so eventually only the priviledged were able to take full advantage of the progress of medical sciences.
This scenario started to change in the 1980’s when healthcare tourists from the west started flocking to certain Latin American countries which offered affordable cosmetic, dental and other treatments. By the turn of 21st century many more countries started to offer quality healthcare at an economical cost and countries which lead the pack were India and the South East Asian nations of Thailand and Singapore. The main reasons which prompted healthcare tourists seeking medical treatment to come to these countries (especially India) were – A. the Quality of Doctors B. the Quality of Medical Infrastructure C. Success Rate D. the Lack of Language Barrier (English is the official language in India and Singapore) and E. the (economic) Cost. Countries with lower exchange rates, as compared to the patient’s home country, became attractive destinations because it effectively meant that the cost of medical treatment went down from anything between 30 % – 70 %.
Healthcare Tourists looking to distant shores for quality and affordable medical treatment also came from countries where there are long queues in front of clinics (of their local doctors) or there is a lack of quality healthcare (in their home country). Procedures for which Healthcare Tourists usually head towards foreign shores are Traditional and Alternative Treatments (like Naturopathy, Aromatherapy, Ayurveda e.t.c.), Cardiac Surgeries, Orthopaedic Surgeries, Organ Transplantation, Cosmetic Surgery and Reproductive Treatments (like In Vitro Fertilization, Surrogacy e.t.c.).
The reason why healthcare tourists make a beeline, especially, to India is to take advantage of traditional and alternative treatments like Ayurveda and Yoga (India is the birthplace of these methods of treatment), reproductive treatments, cardiac surgery and organ transplantation. Chennai, one of the biggest metropolitan cities of India, is often called the Health Capital of South and South East Asia because of the number of quality hospitals and hence availability of beds in that city. The fact that Chennai is very close to the temple town and silk saree manufacturing centre of Kanchipuram and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of ‘Mahabalipuram Group of Monuments ‘ works in its favour as hospitals often club the medical stay of a patient with some sightseeing to these close by destinations. These packages are the finest examples of Healthcare Tourism.
A recent report published by FICCI (Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and KPMG (one of the largest professional services providing company in the world) titled ‘Medical Value Travel’ has found out that India along with Thailand and Singapore accounted for almost 60 % of revenue earned by Asian countries through Healthcare Tourism. The study found out that these countries combined the healthcare stay of a patient along with some sightseeing and promoted it as a package to lure patients.
In conclusion, Healthcare Tourism is a phenomenon which is not only here to stay but is also going to be a big source of foreign exchange for countries which would be providing these services. As long as healthcare providers ensure that they provide state of the art treatment, superior services and keep it affordable at the same time; their levels of success is only going to increase in the coming future.