India’s roadmap for medical and wellness tourism

India’s Ministry of Tourism now has a Draft National Strategy and Roadmap for Medical and Wellness Tourism, which recognises the significant potential of the medical and wellness tourism sector for the country.

The National Strategy aims at formulating an institutional framework, developing a brand, and strengthening the ecosystem towards availability and quality assurance, centred around the following:

  • Distinct roles defined for five ministries and the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH).
  • State Governments to enhance the ground infrastructure and promote medical tourism proactively.
  • Transparency in transactions by hospitals and healthcare facilities.
  • Industry associations to create market outreach and promote Brand India.
  • Allied sectors to boost accessibility by flights and accommodation.

On an urgent basis, the strategy recognises the need to organise the sector through registration, accreditation and categorisation of medical tourism agents and medical service providers.

This would provide a mechanism for mutual coordination between only registered and accredited bodies to create a trustworthy ecosystem, eliminating undesirable elements.

The following steps are envisaged to achieve the required outcome:

  • Health insurance portability by way of extended insurance cover.
  • Developing medical clusters for foreign patients. A medical complex with customised features, amenities and medical facilities may be created, with hospitals or healthcare companies gaining by way of concessional rates and duties on infrastructure creation as well as consumables. The development of such medical towns and cities may be explored using private/public partnerships.
  • Development of special wellness tourism zones may be encouraged at state level offering comprehensive end-to-end services for health, medical and wellness using private/public partnerships.
  • Capacity building. With the anticipated increase in inflow, groundwork for policy alignment, infrastructure development as well as skilling needs to be expedited to be future-ready.
  • Online medical tourism website. The existing website needs a major makeover with integration of all services a medical traveller would need, while also carrying advisories, regulations and information for transparency and ease.

India has relied heavily on medical tourism agents but many of these have gone out of business. Before the pandemic 200 were registered with the NABH but this has fallen to 20. While over 800 hospitals are now NABH accredited, a similar number are still being processed.

India has a strong health infrastructure with many high quality healthcare facilities offering treatment across specialities. But it also has many hospitals where care, training, and medical facilities vary from basic, to worse.