Caroline Ratner spoke to Naresh Jadeja of the “International Wellness and Healthcare Travel Association”, a medical travel association based in the USA. We spoke to the IWHTA about its recently released initial findings of an ongoing survey and report conducted with Indian Healthcare facilities.
International Wellness and Healthcare Travel Association is a collaboration of hospitals, doctors, healthcare service providers and volunteers, reflecting the best interest of international patients and its members. The IWHTA connects patients, healthcare providers and communities and views them as equal participants in the healthcare process. They provide information, education, collaboration/partnering, and consultation to patients and members and promote cost effective high quality healthcare system that is affordable and accessible to all.
How exactly did you gather the data for the survey?
We gathered data by actually visiting the hospitals. So far we have visited and toured more than 180 hospitals in India and are planning to cover in total 400 multi speciality, mostly tertiary care hospitals. Data from the 180 hospitals we visited that serve international patients were compiled and averaged. If any of the hospitals that we visited were treating international patients, then we asked them what percentage of international patients were non resident Indians, how many were from Africa and so on. The results are shown in the graph on the right.
We tour the facility, discuss what kind of patients they cater for and the demands of catering for local and international patients. Rather than only producing a survey and statistics we are also fact finding and have been asking the hospitals and facilities questions about how they are treating international patients. The aim of the survey is not to produce statistics, but to produce a system of how international patients should be treated.
Have you been able to gather data about the numbers of foreign patients receiving treatment in Indian hospitals?
There is no documented proof on foreign patient numbers and most hospitals won’t answer questions about this. In the beginning we tried to ask for evidence of patient numbers but we quickly realised that we were being given unrealistic numbers so we are not asking about numbers any more.
What are the main countries providing patients to India?
There are three major regions in India that overseas patients travel to depending on where they come from. In Delhi many patients come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Additionally all the consulates are based in Delhi and patients consult their consulates who then direct them to the hospitals in the area. In Chennai, in the south, most patients come from Sri Lanka and other South East Asian countries. Chennai is a draw too because it is much cheaper than other destinations in India which makes it a very attractive choice. Even though we are not putting patient numbers into our reports we understand that the hospitals are getting good numbers. The situation in India now is how hospitals need to work on what they need to do to better serve and attract overseas patients.
Are patients also coming from the US and Europe?
From what we’ve seen, European and American medical travellers make up around ten percent of foreigners coming for medical treatment. The majority of these European and US patients are those with Indian connections (first and second generation ex-pats and their families) and especially those with no US health insurance. It’s an attractive destination as they know and understand the system and the culture. They don’t have fears about cultural differences that other foreign patients have which makes travelling to India very easy for them.
How reliable is the data that you are gathering?
We are documenting information very closely and the more hospitals we visit the clearer and more comprehensive a picture we’ll get and therefore the information will give an increasingly accurate picture of the situation. Eventually we’ll be producing our full report and we are planning on sharing that with the Indian and international healthcare industry at the Medical Tourism Expo 2010 which we are organising (December 2010). While we won’t freely publish the information on the internet we will be sharing it within the industry with publications like the IMTJ to help the industry and to prove that we’ve been to visit all these hospitals.
Have you got any idea how big the market is in medical tourism and the value of the market?
As I explained before it’s not possible to get exact patient figures but the medical tourism market for Indian hospitals is a growing market. Part of the attraction is mostly because the neighbouring countries don’t have the wide range of facilities or diagnostic tools that India has but as previously explained we cannot ascertain exact figures. Some countries nearby don’t even have MRI facilities, so Indian hospitals are marketing and focusing on neighbouring countries. Some Indian hospital groups are putting up their own hospitals in neighbouring countries and Indian doctors are visiting these locations and running clinics and carrying out treatments.
Where is this happening?
This is mostly happening in Nepal and Africa, countries include; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and many similar activities will start happening in Sri Lanka soon. They have problems there and don’t have facilities, so patients leaving the country for treatment but there should be facilities to treat them there, this is an opportunity for foreign healthcare providers. We’re going to check out the situation shortly and meet with the Sri Lanka medical tourism association.
What other countries are patients in the region travelling to?
Many Nepalese are going to Thailand even though India is closer physically and culturally. We are trying to find out why this is so and what factors they are considering when choosing this destination above India?
What’s the breakdown by type of treatment/surgery?
There’s a big demand for cardiac surgery. From the outset, cardiac surgery is the most popular treatment and India a preferred destination. Hospitals in Chennai have been treating patients from as far as Australia since 1935. Orthopaedic and bariatric surgery are very popular and treatment for cancer is coming up very fast. IVF is growing with independent IVF centres receiving patients from USA and UK.
What’s your view of the recent superbug issue?
This is interesting because I always ask about it when I meet international patients and hospital administrators. Very few patients knew about, I had to educate them about it. And the ones who already knew about it did more research on it and are aware that it happens but are not overly concerned.
I always ask the same question to the international patient department in all hospitals and ask if patients were asking about it, and they all said that patients are not asking about it all. They all said that international patients have many concerns but this was never an issue and according to the people I have spoken to in the international patient departments not one patient had asked about it which is very surprising.
How representative is the International Wellness and Healthcare Travel Association? Who are your members?
Our members are hospitals, facilities, doctors, and volunteers (doctors, medical companies, manufacturers) involved in our “Donate a Surgery” charity programme. We provide a forum for them all together and we’re building up a good network to benefit and help each members and we are becoming more relevant as more hospitals and doctors sign up.
How long have you been in existence?
The IWHTA was set up as a non-profit organisation almost two years ago and so far has about 38 members (22 hospitals, other facilities and doctors). It’s a true trade association, we are completely not for profit and members are involved in all levels of the organisation, shaping its direction and members can participate in all levels of decision making.
What is your aim for the organisation?
We try to promote medical travel, we try to highlight how to provide correct information to the public about it. We have found that there is a vast range of standards and quality throughout the industry. Our main mission is to promote a “Donate a Surgery” programme because there are people who need surgery and treatment, who can’t afford it in their home country, especially US citizens, so we are trying to get hospitals and doctors to donate to this programme. I believe there’s enormous potential in the Donate A Surgery programme. We’re sending Americans to Malaysia for low cost surgery; it’s a goodwill gesture and a good tool for word of mouth promotion amongst the patient community in the USA.
How much is membership?
Hospitals pay $3,000 a year and doctors will pay too but that’s not finalised. Membership fees are not linked to profit in any way at all. We will try and generate some kind of profit through newsletters and selling information to interested parties.
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