'Medical tourism' draws Americans to India

From heart-transplants to new knees – they are available at low-cost through hospitals in India. Photo: Apollo Hospital

NEW DELHI  Not all tourists going to India visit the Taj Mahal or other historic spots. Some head right for the hospital. But it’s not what you think.

These visitors are getting elective cosmetic procedures or medically necessary treatments at a fraction of the cost.

Implants and other cosmetic surgeries are far cheaper in India than in the U.S. Likewise, medically-necessary procedures are less expensive.

Many insurance companies will gladly reimburse policyholders for a hip or knee replacement, a spinal fusion or even major heart procedures if they have their procedures done at substantial savings in India.

That is why India has become a leading destination for what is commonly referred to as “medical tourism.” 

Indian medical professionals have achieved world-class status and practice using many of the most advanced techniques in a network of privately run hospitals and associated medical institutes in India.

Along with professional skill and a high level of patient care, India offers striking savings. The bill for a heart bypass that may hit $145,000 in the U.S. will likely be no more than $10,500 in India. A hip replacement that can cost $100,000 here runs no more than $9,500 in India.

A major player in the industry is Companion Global Healthcare based in Columbia, S.C. It has a network of 25 accredited hospitals in 13 countries of which the largest number, seven, are in India. Patients treated at these facilities can save up to 80 percent off U.S. hospital charges, says company president David Boucher. “We are seeing an increasing number of patients going to India every year,” he says. “And it’s not just the lower costs; because of the proficiency and experience of Indian doctors, the rate of post-operative complications is lower in India than in most U.S. hospitals.”

Companion Global Healthcare says it will make “all arrangements” for U.S. patients seeking treatment at its designated facilities. This includes setting up appointments, transferring medical records, setting up pre-trip interviews between patients and doctors and making travel and lodging arrangements. Another advantage: patients needing to recuperate following major procedures can stay in luxury hotels and receive attentive full time care from caregivers or even nurses, again at far less cost than comparable care at home.

The non-profit Indian Medical Tourism Association based in New Delhi helps member hospitals market their services to prospective patients living outside India. IMTA can provide foreign patients with member details but they leave it up to the patient to initiate contact with the hospital itself.

The IMTA notes that there currently are 12 healthcare providers in India that are accredited by the Joint Commission International, USA. It is the international arm of the same commission that accredits U.S. hospitals.

An example of these advanced and highly specialized facilities is the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai. On its 400,000 square foot compound is a 250-bed hospital. Among the many procedures routinely performed at the AHI are heart bypass surgery, valve repair and replacement, aneurysm surgery of aorta and blood vessels and the Maze procedure for atrial fibrillation, among many others. As a subspecialty, the AHI has a special pediatric surgical team.

Says the Institute, “our results are on a par with the best centers anywhere.”

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Norman Sklarewitz

As a freelance journalist, Norman Sklarewitz brings to his work for the Washington Times' Communities a professional background that began as a police reporter for Chicago's City News Bureau and went on to include the position of  Far East Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. As such  he reported on major political, economic and social events of international significance from throughout Asia including the Vietnam War. Subsequently, he joined U.S. News & World Report as Los Angeles Bureau Chief. 

Since he moved on to freelance, he's published thousands of articles on a wide variety of topics for consumer, trade, airline inflights, special interest and corporate magazines and for newspaper travel sections.  These outlets also include periodicals published in Asia and Europe.

He is a graduate of Indiana University and holds a master's degree from the University of Southern California. He served three years in the U.S. Army during World War II, two years (1944-45) of which were in the European Theater of Operations where he was a military correspondent. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Esther.


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