Unregulated practices hurt India’s medical tourism sector


Industry experts suggest bilateral accreditation with Australian healthcare standards


Indian hospitals and medical practices should be checked and accredited according to Australian standards to safeguard the booming medical tourism industry, according to a medical tourism facilitator.

My Medical Choices founder Dr Hemani Thukral is advocating for bilateral accreditation as part of her effort to introduce standards to the sector, which is largely unregulated.

“Quality is something that we want to address,” Dr Thukral told The Indian Sun. “We want to make sure that quality is exactly on par [with Australian hospitals and practices].”

More and more Australians are flying overseas for cheaper medical treatment, for everything from breast implants to hip replacements.

But a spate of patients returning with botched procedures has many in the healthcare industry lamenting the trend—including the Australian Medical Association, which calls it a “cause for concern”.

Dr Thukral said standards and other governance measures would help protect Australian patients from risk.

“We’re looking seriously into [undertaking] accrediting by the Australian organisations—so we can put our hand on our heart and say, ‘Yes this is on par with Australian facilities’,” Dr Thukral said.

Dr Thukral spoke about the need for the health industry and other stakeholders in medical tourism to collaborate on governance measures, at the inaugural Medical Tourism Summit in Melbourne last year.

“There was a big acknowledgement of what I was advocating, in the sense that, yes there are challenges and we should have a systematic approach and we should have standards,” she told The Indian Sun.

Dr Thukral said there was growing recognition that governance measures are also needed for inbound medical tourism—which the Australian government and industry supports.

“Whether people are coming in [to Australia] or going out, the same standards should apply,” she said.

Speaking at the summit, Dr Thukral said the trend for medical tourism was going to continue and the Australian industry would be better off accepting it.

“As a society and from a health perspective we have to make a choice—to accept and implement the change in a systematic manner, or do nothing and having an ad hoc approach,” Dr Thukral told the audience of health industry professionals and academics.

She said strong governance of medical tourism was “essential to drive the system,” and required collaboration from all stakeholders, including: consumers, policy makers, professional healthcare bodies, trade commissions, and the tourism and insurance industries.

“Collaboration is a must,” Dr Thukral said. “It’s complex but it can be done.”

She said collaboration would enable “reflective improvement” and systematic changes to benefit the patient and strengthen the industry.

Dr Thukral said in its current state, medical tourism posed risks to patients concerning the quality of treatment and follow-up care.

She said the market for medical tourism was being fuelled by advanced technology becoming available at lower cost in countries like India and Thailand, and quality of care rising to “international standards in some overseas hospitals”. At the same time, healthcare was becoming increasingly expensive in Australia, with out-of-pocket costs spiralling alongside treatment waiting times.

Dr Thukral said the industry was being held back by the lack of awareness about medical facilities and expertise in India, the reluctance of insurers to insure medical travel, difficulty in obtaining a medical visa, lack of data on the quality of health care and patient outcomes, lack of clarity on malpractice jurisdiction, and continuity of care.

Meanwhile, the AMA issued a statement at the start of the year saying the sharp rise in the number of Australians travelling to South East Asia for surgical procedures was a cause for concern.

“Reports that tens of thousands of Australians are heading to Thailand every year for elective surgery has us concerned,” AMA (WA) President Dr Michael Gannon said in a media release.

Dr Gannon said Australian surgeons were “having to rectify botched procedures, which can be extremely costly to the individual, financially and emotionally”.

He said the regulatory system for healthcare in many countries was, “nowhere near as robust as it is here in Australia”.

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