Like 50 million Americans, Carlos, 40, didn’t have any health insurance. When he had his third heart attack in January, doctors advised him to undergo a heart bypass, that costs around US $150,000. Carlos had no option but to sell his restaurant in New Mexico, to bear the cost. His wife, however, decided to come to India, where the same surgery costs just US$10,000. Terming Gurgaon a world-class City, Carlos says , “I didn’t know if I was facing financial death, or death by heart attack. Then one day my wife came across a website of an Indian medical tourism company, that arranged my surgery, travel, and stay – under US$10,000.” He was treated by one of India’s top heart surgeons, Naresh Trehan, at Medanta – The Medicity.
Carlos is not the only one. Over 30,000 international patients receive high-end surgery/treatment every year in the City. Known for malls and corporates, Gurgaon has now jumped solidly into the 'medical tourism' bandwagon. The City today boasts several top-end hospitals, providing the best healthcare, cutting-edge treatments, and a five-star hospital experience. According to the estimates of CII, the health sector in the City has seen a 50 per cent growth in the past five years. The sector is expected to grow by 15 per cent next year, as over half a dozen large-scale private healthcare projects are underway.
Usually, overseas patients come through a medical tourism company. The company provides the hand-holding, from the airport to the hospital, and help in getting a good deal for the patient – depending uponhis/her disease and purchasing power. The majority of overseas patients come from the US, Canada, Australia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Kenya and Nigeria.
Avdesh Mehta of Med Safe Trip believes that while many cities have fully-equipped hospitals, they lack specialists and experienced staff. “Specialists like Dr. Naresh Trehan and Dr. Venu Gopal have chosen Gurgaon to set up healthcare facilities,”
Besides, international patients prefer to stay in a city that also offers good post surgery care. Plus, the City is strategically located along the highway, and just a 20 minute drive from the international airport. Moreover, hospitals offer a lot of add-ons—such as air ambulance, rental accommodation for the patients’ relatives, post-surgery excursion trips to Agra and Jaipur—and even post-surgery consultation through regular visits to the native country of the patients!
As many international patients who come to Gurgaon are from non-English speaking countries, the hospitals in the City have equipped themselves with exclusive international patient services divisions, manned by foreign staff and interpreters, to facilitate personalised care to overseas patients.
Although there are no consolidated statistics about the specific treatment given to overseas patients, the City receives the maximum cases for cardiac surgeries. Singer William P Vernhardt from the US presented a musical thank note to his doctor – Dr. I.S Virdi – after undergoing a cardiothoracic surgery at Max Hospital. He says, “I recorded a song barely five days after my surgery. It was unbelievable, as I could sing without any difficulty, thanks to the level of care provided by the hospital staff.”
Some hospitals like Artemis and Privat are popular for various cosmetic and special treatments. Dr. Nanda of Artemis puts forth an example of a Korean, Teukomana, 31, who accidentally had her hand entangled in a machine, and crushed three fingers. A team of cosmetic and plastic surgeons at Artemis successfully re-stitched the fingers. “It was a complicated case, as it involved reattaching of bones, tendons, arteries, veins, and nerves. We used vein grafts from the patient’s toes, as intervening segments during the suturing of blood vessels. Skin grafting for one of the fingers was also done. It was one of the biggest medical miracles in the country,” says Dr. Nanda.
Some super-speciality hospitals like Fortis, Umkal, and Max offer the best Paediatric, Gynaecologic, Emergency and Trauma treatments. “Last month, a Nigerian lady, who was suffering with Asherman’s Syndrome, underwent an operation at Max Hospital. She was undergoing treatment in her country for a long time, but couldn’t conceive. There are many gynaecological procedures—such as Hymenoplasty, Laparoscopy, Removal of ovarian cysts, and surgery for severe Endometriosis—which can be done at a fraction of the cost (of what it costs abroad) in India,” informs Dr. Kaushiki Dwivedee, Senior consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Max Hospital.
Interestingly, a Chennai-based medical tourism company, Prime Medical Tourism, is planning to come up with an international mediclaim card for the overseas patients. As people in the western countries are generally apprehensive about taking health insurance due to the huge cost involved, Prime Medical Tourism plans to offer a mediclaim card that can be purchased for a two digit dollar figure. Prime India is also hoping to involve hospitals abroad, so that Indian doctors can also fly out and visit their patients when admitted in those hospitals. Also, overseas patients will be offered treatment at Indian hospitals. Fortis, Max, and Paras hospital in Gurgaon are associated with Prime Medical Tourism. However, as of now there are very few hospitals in India that have a tie-up with international
“Currently, Fortis Memorial Research Institute has tie-ups in place with most international insurance and rescue companies – such as Aetna, Cigna, Van Breda, GMC, BUPA, International SOS, and Emergency Assistance Japan, to name a few. This is to provide foreign patients emergency medical coverage,” says Dr. Ashok V. Chordiya, Zonal Director, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon.
Not many people know that overseas patients are making a beeline to the City for alternate therapies too. A leading cancer homeopathic hospital, Aaas Zindagi Ki in Sector 17 receives about two to three international patients every month. An Afgani lady, Nazish, was suffering from Cervix Cancer Stage II B, with a left Ovarian Cyst. After receiving treatment in the US for two months, she came to India on the suggestion of a medical tourism company. “Dr. A.M Mathur of Aaas Zindagi Ki has given me a new life. I could feel the difference in just three months of the treatment. Today, I am fully cured, for for which I am indebted to Dr. A.M Mathur,” smiles Nazish.
Like Nazish, Felicia Whiting from Canada received treatment for Cervical Spondylosis at Arogya Kendra, DLF Phase IV. “I was treated by Dr. Porwal of Arogya Kendra, for severe pain in my right arm. It took two to three months of treatment, wherein I had had to undergo natural therapies four to five times in a week. The treatment helped balance my central nervous system, and fix muscle tension. Today, I can easily lift my arm, and I am able to cope with a heavy work schedule. Also, there has been no recurrence of the pain,” says Felicia, who regularly refers natural therapies and Pranic healing to her colleagues in Canada.
Dr. Porwal suggests Pranic healing for the international patients, as patients don’t need to travel to India. Pranic healing is an alternative healing treatment invented by a Chinese, Choa Kok Sui. Just like Reiki, doctors use Prana (energy) to heal ailments in the body, by manipulating the person’s energy field. Calling it ‘Distant Healing’, Dr. Porwal claims that even the most chronic diseases—like Sciatica, Vitiligo, Cervical Spondylits, and Arthritis—can be treated through Pranic healing.
To make Medical Tourism a high-growth global business, Gurgaon needs a facelift too – especially on sanitation and the environment.
Despite phenomenal development and technical growth, hygiene and sanitary conditions in the City are not those expected of a world-class city. Last year, the City witnessed 526 cases of malaria, and over 150 cases of dengue fever – out of which two cases were reported among the expatriates.
Perhaps it is time for private players to manage the civic conditions in the City. Also, the authorities should also look at allotting further land at concessional rates to private players, and allowing them to setup hospitals on public private partnership basis.