Thursday, April 12, 2007

Medical Tourism –A Doctor’s Perspective

Our personal experience with medical tourism has been extremely positive. We have been running an IVF clinic for the last 15 years, and have noticed a huge surge in patients who come from overseas for IVF. In the beginning, most of these were NRIs; or would come from the Middle East, but in the last 2-3 years, we have treated many Caucasian couples, who come from the US and the UK. In fact, the majority of our patients these days come from abroad !

So why do they fly half way around the world to get a baby ? There are many reasons for this ! Initially, patients would come to us because our charges were a fraction of the cost of what a US clinic would charge. Today, they come to us for many other reasons as well.

Our clinic has a very high pregnancy rate and one of the reasons we are very good at what we do is because we specialize in providing IVF treatment ( we only see infertile couples and do not treat any other gynecological problems). We do not have a waiting list. We do not employ assistants, and provide highly personalized care, so we can tailor our treatment to suit our patient’s needs. We treat couples as intelligent individuals, and invite their input in the decision making process, so they have peace of mind they did their best. We are a patient-friendly boutique clinic, and we take pride in pampering our patients !

Our website at www.drmalpani.com allows couples to read our 300 page book, How to Have a Baby, which is designed to empower infertile couples with information. They can view 20 IVF videos online; and also get a second opinion from me, free of cost. This allows overseas patients to develop confidence in our professional expertise and abilities. I reply to all my emails myself within 48 hours, and this allows them to build a relationship with me well before they come to the clinic.

Medical tourists can be demanding patients ! They have often lost faith in their own medical system; and many of them are doctors and nurses who make their own medical decisions. They are challenging to treat and I enjoy doing so, because they are well-informed and capable of thinking out of the box – it does take guts to travel to India for medical treatment !

Many of our patients come to us because of word of mouth. We have been interviewed by many international newspapers, magazines and TV channels, and this has given us global recognition. Infertile couples can be highly vocal – and once they get pregnant, they are very happy to refer other patients to us. Because they have high expectations of us, all our staff has to be on their toes to ensure they provide high quality treatment – and this helps us to improve the level of the service we provide to our Indian patients as well .

Medical tourism represents a huge opportunity for doctors and hospitals who are willing to tap this market. Firstly, they need to identify niche areas where the demand is the highest. These include: elective surgical procedures which are not covered by insurance, such as : cosmetic surgery and dentistry; expensive surgical procedures which cost an arm and a leg in the US, such as bypass surgery and joint replacement; and alternative medicine , such as health spas for stress management.

Secondly, they have to go out of their way to build a world-class reputation by being transparent, accountable, responsive and patient-centric.

Finally, they should be willing to provide a “point-to-point” service, which takes care of all the needs a medical tourist will have – including: visas; local hospitality ( airport pickup and hotel stay) and sightseeing.

The need for medical tourism is going to grow as the US healthcare industry goes through a shake-up. Third party payment by insurance companies and employers is going to decline, and patients are going to have to start paying for their own treatment through their own pocket, because of the introduction of HSAs, or health saving accounts. They will then start seeking out the most cost-effective healthcare providers – and India can shine !

Unfortunately, the lack of support which the government provides has been a great disappointment, and I feel doctors and hospitals are given step-motherly treatment. The foreign exchange which IT companies earn is tax-free, so why shouldn’t the same consideration be provided to medical services too ? The government should be proud to export medical services, and since Indian doctors have such a good reputation globally, they can leverage this to earn foreign exchange and reverse the brain drain. We do hope the government will put its money where its mouth is, and formally recognize the superb value Indian doctors and hospitals provide to overseas patients, so that medical tourism can be encouraged and supported.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Hello Dr. Malpani,

    I am a Business School student and am working on a Medical Tourism Business Idea.

    Just wanted to take your opinion on this: would you be interested in joining a network which had different specialists whom overseas patients could contact for their specific needs, assuming such a platform was created? As intermediaries, the platform creators would levy a certain commission from the specialists for the procedure.

    I am trying to evaluate doctors' interest in joining something of this nature.

    Thanks,
    Shubha

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think that as long as the transaction was transparent and that patients were aware of the structure, I would be happy to join. I think most doctors would, too. After all, doctors need patients and patients need doctors, so an intermediary who helps to facilitate the process would be welcome. I do know there are medical travel concierge services which do offer a similar service already.

    ReplyDelete

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