|The Economic Times, India|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jul. 29, 2005 - NEW DELHI -- A Californian flying down to Kolkata for plastic surgery? Patients from the Big Apple visiting New Delhi for ortho consultancy? A Seattle resident landing in Kochi for ayurveda treatment? May sound like flights of fancy but such examples could turn into reality soon.
Even as the government has decided to launch medical visas for foreigners visiting Indian for healthcare services, World Healthcare Network -- an US-based facilitator -- has stepped in to tap the Indian market. With the aim of bringing patients from the US to India for comprehensive healthcare services -- combined with a bit of tourism, of course -- the American organisation has tied up with STICcare, a new initiative of STIC Travel Group.
The moves assumes significance since the medical tourism segment is witnessing brisk growth. Nearly 1,180,000 patients from various parts of the world arrived in India for treatment in 2004. The growth in this segment was 25 percent during the year and the proposal to introduce special medical visas is expected to boost the healthcare-tourism, said Mr Subhash Goyal, chairman of STIC Travel Group. According to a recent McKinsey study, India would be in a position to generate health-care tourism revenues to the tune of $2.2 billion by 2010.
We are in the process for formalising tie-ups with a number of hospitals including Escorts and Apollo, Mr Goyal told ET. While customers will be offered comprehensive healthcare package, options for recreation and travel during the recuperation period would be available.
"Apart from saving tremendous amount of money due to lower healthcare costs in India, citizens of the US would get an opportunity to enjoy Indian hospitality," Mr Goyal said. The packages offered would cover appointment with doctors, facilities for stay, travel arrangements, logistics and facilities for those accompanying the patients.
Healthcare-tourism could provide a new stream of revenue for Indian hospitals, it is felt. The quality of services available in select Indian facilities are on par with those available in the US, according to World Healthcare Network's chief executive Ken Erickson. While marketing and pre-travel consultations with patients would be handled by the US organisation, STIC would handle the logistics and operations on the Indian side.
The range of services available through the healthcare-tourism packages would include everything from pre-treatment counselling to post-treatment care. The initial areas of focus would be orthopaedics, dentistry, cardiology and plastic surgery.
Networking with hospitals, hotels and travel service providers would be handled by STIC through separate tie-ups. The Delhi-based Group is planning to establish a large network since medical tourism is expected to boom once the proposed system of healthcare visas come into place.
Under the new systems, patients may have to provide only medical records and proof of appointment at healthcare institutions for getting visas which might be for a duration of upto 12 months. Industry associations and tourism-promotion organisations are also taking interest in developing this high-growth segment.
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