Indian corporate hospitals are well equipped, proficient and could measure up to or even outshine any hospital in the West, making the nation an attractive destination for health tourism, a Planning Commission report released Wednesday said.
But the report said the main impediment for medical tourists coming from Britain and the US for major surgeries was that the insurance companies were not willing to cover treatment in India.
The report, released by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia here, also said India's value proposition was its ability to offer highly cost competitive medical treatment with the most up-to-date technological advances.
It is estimated that in 2002 as many as 150,000 medical tourists travelled to India, bringing in earnings of $300 million.
Quoting the Confederation of Indian Industry-McKinsey report of 2002, it said projections suggested the figure would go up to $2 billion by 2012.
The Planning Commission formed a high-level group on the services sector, including health, to comprehensively examine various aspects influencing the performances of the sectors and to suggest short and long term policies to improve and sustain its competitiveness in the coming years. The report was released after a 10-month examination of the sector.
The report said while a heart bypass surgery would cost a patient $6,000 in India, the same surgery would cost the person $7,894 in Thailand, $10,417 in Singapore, $23,938 in the US and $19,700 in Britain.
A cosmetic surgery would cost $3,500 in Thailand, $20,000 in the US and $10,000 in Britain. But the same surgery would cost only $2,000 in India, the report said.
'What is significant is that the hospitals established by the private corporate players are of world class. They have not only the latest medical technological facilities but also the services of Indian doctors and nurses with a high degree of proficiency,' said the group's chairman, Anwarul Hoda, who is the member (International Economics) in the Planning Commission.
The Indian government has moved to provide visa facilities for the medical tourists, it added.
'The main clientele comes from the SAARC countries but an increasing number of NRIs settled in the US and Britain have also been availing of the healthcare services in India,' it said.
The report pointed out insurance companies were not ready to provide insurance cover but hoped that the cost savings involved in getting treatment done in India would make them to be flexible.
'Already some hospitals are entering into alliance with international insurance companies for making it possible to send patients to India for treatment,' it added.
The report said the competitiveness of India in medical value travel is enhanced by the attractiveness of the alternative systems of medicine, particularly ayurveda.
'A large number of tourists, both domestic and foreign, undergo treatment under ayurveda not only for improving their fitness and well-being but also for curing many types of chronic diseases,' it added.
Praising Kerala, the report said: 'The unique position that Kerala enjoys with respect to Ayurveda is due to the fact that the treatment in the state has proved effective in dealing with certain diseases, which are incurable by other systems.'