Medical tourism is booming in India as an increasing number of foreign patients are opting for treatment in Indian hospitals.
A high-level group of the Planning Commission in India said in a report, "It is estimated that in 2002 as many as 150,000 medical tourists traveled to India, bringing in earnings of USD 300 million."
Since then, the number of people visiting India for medical treatment has been increasing by at least 25% every year.
A CII-McKinsey report says, this figure would "go up to USD two billion by 2012."
The Indian Government has stepped in to facilitate visa procedures for the medical tourists. The majority of medical tourists come from the SAARC countries but an increasing number of non-resident Indians (NRI) settled in the United States and Britain have also been availing of the healthcare services in India.
According to the Planning Commission, superior quality of medical service together with the low cost of surgeries are reasons why people from other countries are flocking to India for medical services.
The report released by Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Wednesday has compared the costs for medical procedures in a few countries.
A heart bypass surgery would cost $6,000 in India, $7,894 in Thailand, $10,417 in Singapore, $23,938 in the US and $19,700 in Britain.
A heart valve replacement surgery would cost $8,000 in India, $10,000 in Thailand, $12,500 in Singapore, $200,000 in the US and $90,000 in Britain.
A bone marrow transplant would cost $30,000 in India, anywhere between $250,000-400,000 in the US and $150,000 in UK.
A cosmetic surgery would cost $3,500 in Thailand, $20,000 in the US and $10,000 in Britain. In India, it costs only $2,000.
An American Medical Association data says a spinal fusion would cost $62,000 in the US. It would cost $5,500 in India, $7,000 in Thailand and $9,000 in Singapore.
According to the report, "The hospitals established by private corporate players are world class. They not only have the latest medical technologies, but also the services of Indian doctors and nurses with high degree of proficiency. The hospitals are completely equipped, upmarket and proficient and can measure up or even outshine any hospital in the West."
The report observes that insurance companies are not coming forward to cover the cost of treatment of the foreign patients. This is proving to be a major setback for further development of medical tourism.
Though there are sure signs of patients coming from the Middle East in the future, the main deterrent for medical tourists coming from the UK and US for major surgeries is that insurance companies are reluctant to cover treatment costs in India, according to the report.
However, according to the report, "Already some hospitals are entering into alliance with international insurance companies for making it possible to send patients to India for treatment."
India's Union health minister A Ramadoss had this to say, "In the last five years, the number of patients visiting India for medical treatment has been rising by 20%. India boasts of the best private-owned hospitals. When it comes to becoming a doctor, India also has some of the most stringent criteria. Language is another plus factor — English is widely spoken and most importantly, there are no waiting lists."