India is one the most attractive medical tourism destinations in the World and one of the fastest growing destinations in Asia. As per FICCI and IMS Health report, India has approximately 18% of global medical tourism market share.This is attributed to the qualified experts and quality services offered in the healthcare sector. With Covid-19 spreading from one country to another, medical tourism was one of the first industries to get impacted. In 2020, the medical tourism industry, which was expected to grow to around Rs 68,000 crore this year, has witnessed the lowest number due to the epidemics situation.
As many countries begin to ease lockdown measures to boost their economies, India is also expected to ease coronavirus travel restrictions and enable medical tourism to begin steadily again. The country is planning to continue to maintain the safest, and one of the most preferred destinations for medical tourism during and after the pandemic.
Table of Contents
Feel free to skip ahead if one topic catches your eye:
- How COVID-19 has impacted medical tourism development?
- India as the Hub for Medical Tourism
- How are medical associations making decisions?
- Steps being taken by Healthcare Tourism on account of Covid-19
- How to avoid COVID-19 spread while traveling abroad?
- New visa policy and Medical Risk
1. How COVID-19 has impacted medical tourism development?
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global economy is expected to shrink by over 3 per cent in 2020. According to the ministry of tourism India , medical tourism in the country was expected to grow to $9 billion in 2020 before COVID-19 struck.
The Ministry is hopeful that industry will bounce back quickly as our country was at the forefront and has supplied hydroxychloroquine to other countries and has been handling the COVID crisis effectively. As per the Director of Indian Tourism Development Corporation, Mr. Piyush Tiwari, India will leave the developed countries of Europe and America behind to get back on the track of revival.
“Indian medical tourism industry is likely to revive faster than even some developed nations in Europe, as well as the USA, on account of comparatively better handling of the situation by India as compared to these nations,” said Piyush Tiwari, director (commercial and marketing), India Tourism Development Corp. (ITDC), under the tourism ministry.
The government, health experts and industry leaders are working together for recovering and strengthening the medical and wellness industry as the tourism industry shifts to ‘new normal’.
Will we live a normal life again or is this a new normal?
Despite the recent pandemic situation, by following proper disease control measures medical tourism can gear up again. In this new normal era, patients are required to plan their medical and wellness tourism program carefully and under guidance of the experts in the area. Many new protocols and standards will be introduced to maintain the ‘safe’ treatment option as this could be the new normal.
- The future holds big as India has the best treatments
To attract international tourists again, governments and health bodies are planning to set a line of protocols for private and government hospitals. Select hospitals will be granted high-level certificates for maintaining quality accreditation for patients looking at healthcare options in our country.
- India has a geographical advantage due to its location at the heart of South Asia
This geographical advantage will serve well when air travel restrictions are lifted. Then overseas patients will find it easy to travel to the country by following required protocols.
Rapid antibody test kits for International travelers
There is also a proposal for FDA approved COVID-19 rapid test kits that could prove to be a useful tool for overseas patients traveling by Airlines.
During the initial phase of COVID-19, most of the medical tourism companies turned their attention to telemedicine services and offered telephonic consultations to their foreign patients.
2. India as the Hub for Medical Tourism
There are many factors why India is one of the leaders in the medical tourism boom.
Advanced Technology and skilled doctors
There are many highly skilled experts with excellent and affordable services gaining attention on the international level. Many multi-specialty and state of the art healthcare centers providing the widest range of services, work in partnership with international travel agencies to help aid international travelers coming to the hospital for treatment.
Most of the healthcare centers offer treatments at a comparatively lower price than other western countries. India serves as the ideal destination where the patients can get an affordable medical treatment package that includes flight booking expenses, accommodation cost and local trip expenses.
There are a large number of tourists coming from more and more parts of the world to receive first-class treatment at a more affordable cost. Many medical tourism companies support and guide such international patients by providing detailed information on highest quality transparent healthcare.
Ease of travel and communication
Many multi-specialty hospitals meet most of the needs of foreign patients and offer state of the art treatments under one roof. The doctors and staff are fluent in English and many hospitals also have language interpreters. Medical tourism companies will help you plan your entire trip including medical and tourism visa, selection of hospitals, and hotels. They also provide information about tourist destinations for Patients and their Companions during their medical stay.
Popularity of ancient medicine
India has always been a popular destination of medical tourism due to its ancient achievement in Yoga, Ayurveda and naturopathy. The country has always witnessed a constant influx of medical travelers hoping to benefit from this branch of alternative medicine. International patients can select and plan a visit to Wellness Spa centres offering Yoga and Ayurveda therapies with the help of their tour companies.
The standards of treatment and care offered by top Indian hospitals meet global International standard benchmark.
3. What are the steps taken by medical associations and the Government?
The Foundation of Healthcare & Wellness Promotion, an association of medical tourism players, had a meeting to discuss how to handle the Covid impact on the medical tourism industry and how the government can support the industry.
Mr. Dilip Chopra, President of Foundation of Healthcare and Promotion, has urged the government to support medical tourism players and reduce restrictions on oversea patients (with adequate measures ensuring that they don’t spread coronavirus).
How can the government help?
Countries such as Thailand have declared that they will be allowing international patients who have tested negative for Covid-19 to enter the country for medical and wellness treatments. The Thai government has taken strong steps for supporting their medical tourism industry. The patients will have to follow the strict guidelines and medical tourism will be resumed. Similar actions are expected from India and other countries known for their medical tourism.
With domestic flights resuming, and India is deciding to resume flights under air bubbles talks with 13 countries including US, UK, France, Germany, UAE, Qatar and Maldives, as per civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri.
“Air bubbles have also been proposed with our neighbors Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal & Bhutan. Going forward, we will consider such arrangements with other countries also,” Puri added.
4. Steps being taken by Healthcare Tourism on account of Covid-19
In the initial stage, many big hospitals and private centres started providing telephonic consultations.
Better tourism product
Contact-less service in hospitals will be offered to overseas patients with limited staff involved. Medical value travel (MVT) companies have prepared the SOPs, in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and top hospital chains.
Navigating the impact of coronavirus
India is already in advanced negotiations for establishing air travel “bubbles” with several countries including the US, Germany, and France based on “COVID-safe travel zones” to restart the scheduled international passenger flights.
Building a better referral network
Building a strong referral network for healthcare services and facilitating medical tourism for tourists from all over the world is a necessary step in the Covid-19 situation.
5. How to avoid COVID-19 spread while traveling abroad?
- Keep checking WHO updates and government travel advisories daily, to see whether your traveling plans will follow through.
- Ensure that your traveling partners follow strict safety and hygiene standards.
- There are items that you should carry with you while traveling including sanitizers, face masks, and disinfectants to maintain hygiene and avoid contamination.
- During your travel avoid contact as far as possible for example, choose window seats in an airplane, and avoid sharing cabs or public transport wherever possible.
- Be mindful of what you touch, especially when using devices or touching surfaces those others have used too. In all these cases, use a generous amount of sanitizer to sanitize your hands.
6. New Visa Policy and Medical Risk
During the Covid-19 situation, India has revoked many visas for containing the spread of the disease. The Government has further considered the need for relaxation of visa & travel restrictions for more categories of foreign nationals who want to travel to India including foreign nationals coming on Medical grounds for treatment in India (including one Attendant if so requested). On arrival, they will have to undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days i.e. 7 days paid institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by 7 days isolation at home with self-monitoring of health.
Most recently, India announced that it will be establishing a ‘travel bubble’ to other countries to strengthen connectivity and tourism ties. This approach will help control and manage the flow of overseas patients effectively.