India to ease processes for inbound medical travel

The Indian government has set its sights on attracting more medical tourists by developing infrastructure and leveraging affordable costs of medical procedures in the country, as part of the Heal in India initiative.

6.7% of India’s total tourist footfall in 2020 was for medical purposes, according to Indian Tourism Statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism.

With 2020 tourism numbers of 2.74 million, this works out at 178,000.

The government has drawn up a plan to augment the medical infrastructures of 17 cities, which see an inflow of overseas patients for treatment and wellness therapies, in a bid to boost medical travel.

The health ministry is working on easing medical visa norms and other requirements for patients and their companions from 44 countries, identified based on the number of patients visiting India.

These are predominantly African, Latin American countries and also members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Gulf Cooperation Council groupings.

Through ‘Heal In India’, the government aims at positioning the country as a global hub for medical and wellness tourism, and a destination of choice for quality healthcare services.

The Union Health Ministry is collaborating with Tourism, Ayush, Civil Aviation ministries, hospitals and other stakeholders to build a roadmap to connect overseas patients with healthcare facilities in India to boost medical travel.

As part of executing the initiative, the Medical Value Travel Council of India, co-chaired by the health and tourism ministries, has been formed to create an institutional framework for streamlined integration of all stakeholders.

Thirty-seven hospitals including 30 in the private sector across 17 cities in 12 states have been identified for promoting medical value travel.

The cities that will be targeted in phase one of the initiative are New Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Gurugram, Bangaluru, Amritsar, Kochi, Coimbatore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guntur, Alappuzha, Guwahati, Chennai, Chandigarh, Vellore and Hyderabad.

Based on target countries, more language interpreters can be provided at airports and hospitals. “One-stop centres may be set up at the identified airports for queries related to medical travel, transport, boarding and lodging among others,” the official source said.

The health ministry in collaboration with the National Health Authority is also working on developing a portal as a one-stop shop for services provided by medical travel facilitators and hospitals with an interface for foreign patients.  The portal will display standardised package rates based on the classification of hospitals and different systems of medicines including modern and traditional systems. It will also have a grievance section as well as an option to submit patient feedback and testimonials.

The portal will include a mechanism to track the patient journey by creating a unique health ID under the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission framework, and will monitor service delivery in identified health facilities in India.

Bangladesh, Iraq, Maldives, Afghanistan, Oman, Yemen, Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania account for about 88% of the total international patients visiting India. Bangladesh alone accounts for 54% of the total medical tourists.

Treatment for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and kidney ailments are most sought after by foreign patients in India.