Accredited hospitals: A source of increasing medical tourism

Bangalore Health National

India ranks tenth in the list of 46 countries that attract medical tourists from across the world.

Quality healthcare, treatment, doctors and service under the Joint Commission International (JCI) and National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) accreditation in Indian hospitals has been encouraging medical tourism in India.

A report released by the Ministry of Tourism on the number of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) in India for medical purposes shows that there has been a 65.91 percent increase in medical tourism with 3,03,526 FTAs in 2021  as compared to 1,82,945 FTAs in 2020.

Number of international patients visiting India for medical care in 2021 has drastically increased despite the fall in 2020.

However, Dhanshree Chari, Branding Lead at Fortis Hospital Cunningham Road and Fortis Hospital Nagarbhavi, Bangalore said that COVID-19 had also impacted the medical tourism and the number of medical tourists visiting Bangalore is steadily going back to the pre-COVID numbers.

With four JCI-accredited hospitals and 131 NABH-accredited hospitals in Bengaluru, the city is emerging as one of the top Indian cities in the sector of medical tourism. Arun from Shathayu Retreat, a wellness centre in Devanahalli, Bengaluru said, “Over the years medical tourism has been increasing in Bengaluru.”

Mr. Natesh, coordinator at the office of Joint Director’s Medical Section in the Department of Health and Family Welfare, said, “JCI and NABH accreditations have been playing a major role in increasing medical tourism in Bengaluru. The quality control assurance that comes with these accreditation helps in ensuring the quality standards of the hospitals.”

Dhanshree Chari said, “Accreditation plays a vital role in attracting medical tourists. The hospitals that provide quality control standards help the patients in identifying the best hospitals they want. When it comes to international patients, they always look for accreditations. The moment they see a JCI accredited hospital, they are able to decide the hospitals they want to get treated in.”

However, not all patients are well-versed with the international and national accreditations. They often rely on the popularity of the hospital. Nazia, relative of a patient from Bangalore, visiting Victoria Hospital for the treatment of her brother, said, “Victoria Hospital is known for its treatment and the expertise of the doctors. We did not check the accreditations we chose this hospital because of its popularity.”

A report by Ministry of Tourism shows that India is a medical tourism spot for more than 50 countries. Bangladesh, Iraq, Maldives, Afghanistan and Oman are the top five countries to visit India for medical treatment.

India’s cost-effective medical care has been attracting several patients from varies countries.

Dhanshree added that Fortis Hospital in Bangalore has seen around 10 to 15 international patients from Oman, Maldives, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Nigeria in 2022.

However, as private hospitals – those are accredited by JCI and NABH witness an inflow of international patients, the government hospitals seem to lag behind them. Dr. Poojitha, a house surgeon at Victoria Hospital said, “I have been working here for more than a year now but I have not seen any international patient. There are a lot of Indians visiting from within the country.”

Dr. Jyoti Paanda, another house surgeon at Victoria Hospital said, “I came across two international patients when I was working at Bowring Hospital in Bangalore. One was from Jordan and the other one was from a Southern African country.” She said that one of the reasons why the international patients choose to come to government hospitals is the lack of official documents.

Cost-effective treatment and quality healthcare are the main factors that have been attracting medical tourism in India. Mr. Natesh said that India provides affordable healthcare facilities which are around 60 to 67 percent less expensive.

As per the press release of Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr. Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of State for the Ministry of Science and Technology, while addressing the Healthcare Leaders Summit-2022, said that with more than 10 lakh medical visas have been issued to foreigners between 2019 and 2022. India is emerging as fastest growing country in medical tourism. He added, “India has almost 600 globally and nationally accredited hospitals that provide world-class treatment in a cost-effective manner.”

Accreditation not just helps hospitals and institutes in getting popularity amongst patients but it also helps them attracting medical students.

Meghana, a first-year resident of Pathology in Victoria Hospital said, “The reason why I chose Victoria Hospital as a place to complete my resident period is its popularity. I could have studied in any district government hospital but I came here because a big hospital like this can help me gain experience, exposure, and knowledge.”

Despite India emerging as a medical tourism spot, the Department of Tourism does not promote it actively. A consultant at the Department of Tourism, Karnataka said, “The department on its own does not take up the initiative of promoting a hospital for medical tourism, the hospitals come up with initiatives to promote themselves in collaboration with the tourism department.”

Apart from NABH there are other government accreditations like National Quality Assurance Standards (NQAS) and LaQshya JCI is another international US-based non-profit organization that provides accreditation to hospitals around the world. According to JCI, Bengaluru has four—three private and one government—out of 41 JCI accredited hospitals in India. Only one of the five is  a government hospital.

Sonam Arora, Economics Professor at K. L. International School, Meerut said, “With the increase in medical tourism, there will be more foreign patients too as India is supplying its best medical services at a relatively cheaper price than any other countries. This will help in more foreign exchange reserve and will strengthen the value of the Indian rupee.”

A consultant with the Karnataka tourism department added that one of the challenges that the department faces is marketing of the medical tourism spots. “The department is thinking of providing tour agents, guides or middlemen, who help foreign tourists navigate through the country, with suitable channels including material and digital platforms that can help them with access to best healthcare facilities in the state.”