Economic and various other factors have prompted many foreigners seek treatment in India and most of them are overwhelmed by the hospitality at the star-rated hospitals here. But the crucial question is whether Indians will be treated on par with the rich guests from foreign countries.
There may be incidents of an average Indian being seen as a second grade citizen in his own country and denied affordable treatment. How can he protect his rights and demand quality care?
In an interview to Salil Jose, renowned cardiac surgeon and healthcare economist Dr Mukesh Hariawala points out the need for legislation by the government to safeguard the interests of the local patients.
The Harvard trained and Boston (US) based surgeon, who has extensively researched on medical tourism as part of his Healthcare Executive MBA thesis, suggests that hospitals which profit from medical tourism must be compelled to provide subsidised services to the less fortunate local Indian population.
He says the whole society must benefit from medical tourism, not just a few hospitals and doctors.
India has historically received patients from Middle East countries? How would this new medical tourism industry be different?
Traditionally, most of the patients came to India from the Middle East where health sector was not well developed. They were from the lower middle class who could not afford services in the Western world where their affluent countrymen went regularly. Also, their bills were paid by either 'Out of Pocket - Life Savings' or by their country's consulates.
This was a very fragmented, unreliable and sporadic business for Indian hospitals and doctors. This flow of patients has now subsided as good quality medical facilities are now available in most of these Middle East countries.
However, in the near future, patients may be travelling from Western developed countries like the US, Europe and Canada for healthcare services to India and other Asian countries.
For the first time, there will be a formal healthcare outsourcing business where medical bills for patients will be paid for its clients by insurance companies under agreement with the serving hospitals.
Why is there a sudden need for patients from western countries to seek healthcare services outside their own countries when they have the best facilities and systems already in place?
In an era of recession and rising costs of healthcare in the US and other Western countries, it is a very compelling economic decision with the sole goal of cost savings.
A typical surgical procedure in an Asian country hospital including India costs 10 percent of its equivalent in the western world.
More importantly, there is no compromise in quality of surgery, results and all stages of post operative care.
Surveys have shown that patients find the services in India more personalised than in the US.
Will the market for medical tourism change after the Western countries come out of recession?
Based on all economic indicators, the costs of care are expected to continue rising irrespective of status of the market recession, its contraction and after effects. Also, the average aging population is rising in these countries and unfortunately most of them are under or even uninsured.
In the US, this 'Baby Boomer' population currently exceeds 73 million and is fast rising. The US is not building new hospitals and under the new 'President Obama Healthcare Reform Bill' an additional 30 million will be provided 'Low Cost Government Subsidised Insurance Plans.'
The reality is that even these low premium plans will be unaffordable to this segment of American patients.
Creative Insurance Plans are emerging that will be lower premium than offered by the government, but will mandate elective procedures to be performed only outside the US. This is the only way it will be affordable and profitable business for the insurance companies. All patients will continue to be eligible to seek emergency services in the US.
Image: Dr Mukesh Hariawala delivering the keynote address at a medical conference at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai on Feb 18, 2011.
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