Is India a solution to Australia’s expensive medical system?

Medical Tourism to India from Australia. The Indian Sun

A few decades ago rich Indians used to travel to western countries for medical treatment. Now the cost of treatment in western societies is driving a trend in the other direction. Medical tourism is making India a favoured destination for people in the western world seeking more affordable treatment options.

It is more than just Kerala’s ayurveda and natural scenery. Today, medical tourism is bringing together India’s modern private hospitals, Australian consumers, travel agencies, government bodies and even insurers. Whether you need an orthopaedic surgeon, an oncologist or a heart surgeon, India offers the best in medical facilities to patients overseas. India is becoming one of the leading destinations in the world for medical tourism with an annual industry growth rate of 30 per cent, and an expected industry valued $2 billion by 2015. And businesses are mushrooming to facilitate this trade.

It is estimated that around seven million people fly internationally each year searching affordable quality treatment. Globally, the industry is valued at around $US40 billion. While countries like Thailand have so far had a greater share of the global medical tourism market, the Indian medical system’s attempts to tap into the global market may introduce new dyanimcs in the industry, if India’s emergence in this sector is not already a sign of a changing market.

As a medical tourism destination India has the advantage of lower costs, immediate access, state-of-the-art private hospitals and diagnostic facilities, besides well-trained and experienced doctors. Direct Air India flights between Sydney and Melbourne to Delhi are expected to boost this growing trend.

Although the Australian Medical Association is not in favour of medical tourism, the Indian tourism industry, the Australia India Business Council, some health insurers, and Air India are throwing their weight behind medical tourism to India.

Building bridges?

Dr Hemani Thukral’s MyMedicalChoices is a business that facilitates “patient-centric outcomes” for those seeking affordable medical treatment in India. A medical doctor who has practiced in New Delhi’s prestigious hospitals, Dr Thukral says that MyMedicalChoices is “committed to transparency and quality in clinical care”. According to Dr Thukral, the rising cost of treatment in Australia is the primary driver of consumers seeking alternatives in other parts of the world.

MyMedicalChoices claims to have a reliable and dependable network of highly experienced surgical experts practicing in world-class Indian medical facilities. Dr Thukral calls this the MMC network. According to her, these centres of excellence offer expertise and great service across a wide range of medical treatments. “MyMedicalChoices offers the personal touch for local patients to ensure that a customer’s medical holiday goes smoothly,” says Dr Thukral. Besides the medical network MMC services include a variety of travel and leisure support agencies.

Dr Thukral says that globalisation is changing the “way medicine is practised today, with surgeons in India and Thailand becoming accustomed to operating on international patients. But the basic principles of medicine have not changed. High quality patient care and safety standards are essential to successful medical outcomes.”

Dr Thukral says that although cosmetic surgery has been the largest component of medical tourism so far, more Australians are now looking into knee surgery, hip replacement, non-cosmetic dental surgery etc due to the cost benefits. In view of this, Dr Thukral says that the trends in medical tourism make it important to develop this industry in a systematic manner through collaboration between India and Australia “to achieve better outcomes for Australians”. She says that collaboration with a view to regulation “will in turn raise the bar for the quality of care provided to patients internationally and across the nation”.

The challenges

MyMedicalChoices is one among a host of other service providers in this field. Dr Thukral says the lack of awareness about medical facilities and expertise in India, the reluctance of insurers to insure medical travel destinations, the difficulty in obtaining a medical visa, the lack of transparent data on the quality of health care, inadequate information on patient outcomes, lack of clarity on malpractice jurisdiction and continuity of care are among the biggest challenges limiting the growth of the industry. “It is my vision to develop medical tourism in a systematic manner through ongoing dialogue and collaboration between Australia and India to achieve better outcomes for Australians seeking treatment in India,” says Dr Thukral.

However, like many new industries and trends taking shape in the global village medical tourism has its critics who have cautioned the public on overseas treatments and medical tourism. Many doctors say that tourism and surgery are two different things and mixing them may not be wise. Among the concerns about medical tourism is the possibility of complications arising once the patient returns to their home country after the procedure.

Dr Thukral says that many of the challenges in the industry can be addressed through governance and better collaboration between the health systems of the two countries. In the absence of such formal collaboration businesses like MyMedicalChoices seek to ensure successful results for all the parties.

Dr Thukral says the cost of local treatments is something that hurts the local economy and local consumer, and the growth of medical tourism will eventually be beneficial to India, Australia and the local patient.

Dr Thukral explains that a collaborative approach can help towards redirecting Australia’s limited health resources to areas where they are most needed. Collaboration can also ensure greater quality assurance, better litigation procedures and potentially shorter waiting times for local patients. She says that India can gain a better international image, improved quality of care and more investment that can contribute to economic growth.

Since the Australian medical establishment does not support medical tourism, businesses like MyMedicalChoices are relying on the Indian government to push for change through trade negotiations with Australia.

Whether you are for it or not, medical tourism is another example of globalisation bringing together the two economies of India and Australia and restructuring their societies, economies and labour force in unprecedented ways.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Australia)

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