Medical Tourism is likely to get a jump in India with hospital chains pushing the government for reduction in visa fees, imposition of tax sops and setting up of special immigration counters to attend to medical patients.
In the direction of medical tourism, the Ministry for Tourism is already up with a proposal for e visas to facilitate medical travel to India for foreign patients. This it is doing in the light of encouraging medical tourism reported Business Standard.
Moves in this direction are already underway with the Home Ministry, on Thursday, announcing that foreigners visiting India for short duration yoga programmes and medical treatment be granted medical visas.
Taking on suggestions from the wellness industry, the Ministry of Tourism has already put its act together by setting up the National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board to address issues of visas, marketing and promotion, and accreditation of hospitals for all branches including Ayurvedic and Unani.
A White paper record available at FICCI reflects a 17 % hike in 2014, over the previous year of tourists who came to the country under the medical category; in numbers amounting to 270,000. However, foreign medical category patients account for a mere 3 % of the total tourist inflow into the country; their medical visas costing more than the normal ones.
According to Dr. K. Hari Prasad, President – Hospitals Division, Apollo Hospitals, progressive fiscal measures are likely to attract foreign patients to the country. According to him, the niche sector could get the much required encouragement by providing 100% tax exemption, MVT revenues, service tax exemptions on MVT procedures for 10 years, and guideline framework, promoting medical value travel.
Sunil Kapur Head Sales, Fortis Healthcare, further added to Dr. Hari Prasad’s pointers by saying that the government’s proposal of issuing e visas for medical tourists was indeed futuristic, however, according to him what also needed to be looked into was a trouble free procedure for visa extensions. Visa processes for patients wanting to extend their medical stay in the country should remain trouble free provided they had recommendations from bonafide doctors and hospitals, were his views.
Fortis’s healthcare facilities at Kochi and Kozhikode earn 10% of its revenue from international patients every year; a majority of the patient inflow being from Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kenya and Maldives. According to Alisha Moopen, Executive Director & CEO (hospitals & clinics), Aster DM Healthcare, the inflow of foreign patients seems to be growing by 25% every year, contributing to 18 % of the total revenues generated.
Analyzing international patient inflow, Ms. Moopen highlighted the fact that while travel for the Gulf patients was smooth, african countries like Nigeria had to wait 4 weeks to many a month before gaining entry access, in the form of medical visas. Besides this, the price of the medical visa being double the cost of the normal one and documentation complicated. This she said acted as a setback for India, as Thailand gained on the front, taking away medical patients due to entry procedures being simpler.
Hospital chains like Fortis, Medanta and Apollo are adding their bit to increase the medical patient inflow into the country by investing in newer facilities, coordinating with foreign governments and insurance groups to facilitate passage for patients and making their stay comfortable by providing airport pick and drops, interpreter services & meal options to both foreign patients and their attendants.
Travel companies, an important assist in attracting foreign travel have also entered the arena of medical patient inflow by setting up separate divisions for the same. Shalini Sharma, Assistant Team Leader of Medi Connect India, a travel service provider, gave interesting insights into how travel companies were increasing patient inflow from the gulf and the african continent. She spoke about company representatives getting in touch with patients wanting to come to India, coordinating between them and the hospitals for advice, quotations and recommendations.