March 17, 2017
 

The growing interest in the field of medical tourism was substantiated by the presence of several established doctors, healthcare experts, healthcare corporations and professors from across India and abroad, at the second edition of the International Healthcare Tourism Congress (IHTC) which took place on 3 and 4 March in Bangalore.

IHTC 2017 brought together several Medical Tourism Agencies (MTAs), tourism experts, medical marketing heads at the venue to discuss the latest developments in healthcare travel. The two-day event was filled with panel discussions, presentations and workshops on business challenges, solutions, trends and technological and infrastructure issues in medical tourism in India. It was inaugurated by Ramesh Kumar, Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of Karnataka.

The list of speakers included Prof. Ravi Ramamurti, Professor at Northeastern University and the Founding Director of the Centre for Emerging Markets, USA; Maria K Todd, CEO, Mercury Healthcare International; Dr. Shalini Rajneesh, Principal Secretary, MHFW; Girish from Kolot Network; Prof. Joga Rao, Advocate & Faculty NLSIU, Bangalore; Dr. H.V. Madhusudhan; Dr. KR Gangadharan, Heritage Foundation, Hyderabad; to name a few.

The West has led the world in medical science and in developing drugs and devices, but poor countries like India are leading the way in healthcare delivery. Poverty, inadequate government hospitals, and a serious shortage of doctors and medical equipment is motivating some Indian hospitals to pursue breakthrough innovations in healthcare delivery. In his talk, based on a Harvard Business Review article, the keynote speaker, Prof. Ravi Ramamurti, showed how and why some Indian hospitals are delivering world-class healthcare at a tiny fraction of US prices, while serving a significant number of poor patient and still making good money. They have become leaders in lean healthcare, just as Ford or Toyota blazed the trail in lean manufacturing. Hospitals everywhere can learn useful lessons from them. Improving the competitiveness of individual hospitals will make India an even more attractive destination for medical tourism.

India can play a large role in this field mainly due to its huge ready medical infrastructure, good supply source of medical talent including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and lab assistants, cosmopolitan outlook of cities with hotels, well-developed ecosystem of partners including allied services like language translators. Some of the source location countries for India are the Middle East and Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, Maldives and Myanmar.
Emphasizing the need for a health tourism master plan in India, Maria Todd said, “People buy not what you sell but why you sell. To start with, we need a state strategy and a national strategy. A framework has to built for the product, be it hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centres, spas, dialysis travel, clinical research labs, etc. Pitching India as excellent providers of treatment, rather than cheap healthcare becomes relevant.”

Talking about the need to co-create experiences in medical tourism, Girish, Kolot Network, drew a parallel to the Kochi biennale where three artists came together to create the Muziris heritage from the Spice Route. He said, "Put people at the centre, leverage assets such as culture and heritage; tell a story, have a residual effect on social and cultural and societal aspect. We can also co-opt the community in which such experiences are cited so that everyone can own the experience."
He suggested, as an example, the idea of performing arts medicine for dancers and singers and questioned the possibility of pairing up that kind of an activity as part of their healing therapy.

Some of the issues raised during the sessions included the image and identity of India as a medical tourism destination, national reputation, capacity development, taxation, information systems, need to develop a health policy that consists of telehealth communication, health privacy, continuity of care, professional liability and recourse, medical records. proper accommodation, food and beverage options, amenities, airport readiness, allergy and portion management, special gastronomy, pricing and package development, technologies, specialisation, among others.

Maria Todd said, "We have to identify our source market; discern who will be ideal customers for each city such as Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, etc. and then go on to understand why we target those customers. All that India is saying is that it offers cheap healthcare; but India must recognise its uniqueness and analyse its competitors. It does not need to own all services. India's strength is its importance to human values."

On the whole, the event proved to be a thought-provoking one with the presentations and discussions paving the way for more awareness about our own strengths in medical talent, infrastructure and economies of scale.

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