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www.expresshospitality.com FORTNIGHTLY INSIGHT FOR THE HOSPITALITY TRADE
16 - 30 June 2006  
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Home - Market - Article

Capital View

Medical Tourism: Hidden dimensions

Rabindra Seth

Wayne Steinard, on the wrong side of the 50s, was leading a normal citizen's life in Florida as a building contractor specialising in poor peoples' homes, when discovery of a heart ailment brought dark clouds over his future. Medical tests alone, he found to his horror, would cost as much as US $10,000 which is all he could have raised from his own resources. Where would the funds for the expensive surgery come from? Steinard is among the large number of citizens of the world's only super power (some estimates put the figure at 45 million) who have either no medical insurance cover or are under-insured. Along with prayers he took refuge in the internet which is where he found relief.

India, he was told was one country where he could get the right treatment at the right cost even without an insurance cover. But, then all he knew of India was what he learnt at school half a century ago, that although it was a great country with a glorious past, it was ridden with poverty. Two things helped him get over his misgivings - the presence of a very large number of Indian doctors in America (and even in his own Florida), and, a chance encounter on the internet with a Tom Borta, who had a rewarding experience of treatment in India. What made him take a final decision in favour of India was contact with Planet Hospital, an America-based agency that connects patients with low cost medical facilities around the world including India.

To cut Steinard's long story short, Planet Hospital organised a teleconference between him, his local doctor, and Max Devki Devi Heart & Vascular Institute in south Delhi. Accompanied by his daughter, Beth Keigans (who works for Walmart), he flew into the Indian capital and underwent a triple bypass under the care of Dr Anil Bhan, chief cardio thorasic surgeon at Max. A beaming Steinard told this writer as he was being discharged from Max hospital on May 25, that in India he had found an answer to his prayer to God (and internet he added with a smile). "I still cannot believe", he said, "that expenses on the surgery, other hospital charges, airfares and hotel stay do not add up to US $10,000." He was very touched by the personalised attention he received from doctors and nurses, something unknown in his own country. Steinard had a special word for Planet Hospital whose executives stayed 'connected' throughout with the cell phones provided to both father and daughter and said they were impressed with the meeting arrangements at the airport, transfers to hotel and hospital. Asked if he would visit the Taj Mahal, Steinard shot back, "You bet we will. Right tomorrow. Vipul Jain (head of Planet Hospital in India) has already organised that."

Surprisingly the Wayne Steinard story has yet to find space in the Indian media, TIME magazine has covered it in its latest Asia Pacific issue.

The genesis of Planet Hospital is an interesting development in itself. Three young entrepreneurs in America -- an Indian (Vipul Jain), a Canadian (Rudy Rupak) and an American, (Valarie Capleito) had been planning to set up a business together. On a visit to Bangkok, Valarie Capleito had to be hospitalised. Sensing the quality of treatment in the so-called "developing nations", the low cost and no wait-list, the trio saw immense potential for an outfit that could "help patients find the best and least expensive medicare". Planet Hospital was thus incorporated at Los Angeles just three years ago. According to Jain, it has already emerged as the largest agency in the field with marketing offices apart from India, in the United States, UK, France, Australia and New Zealand with access to treatment in India, Thailand, Belgium, Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. The Indian tie-ups include Apollo, Wockhardt, Hiranandani and Max. Starting with small numbers, Jain said, the Indian arm is handling a patient a day from abroad. The Indian chief of Planet Hospital pointed out that it is not only the cost factor or the on-demand availability that will attract patients to India. It is also the fact that India offers certain surgeries and orthopedic procedures which are not available in advanced countries like Amercia, and that makes India a preferred destination. He gave the example of hip-resurfacing which is not on offer in the USA but available in India.

Jain estimated that last year as many as 200,000 patients came to India. But this figure should be viewed in comparison with Bangkok where one hospital alone took care of 150,000 treatment seekers from abroad. Airfares to India are higher than, say, Thailand, hotels more expensive and visas not hassle-free.

Hopefully, the tourism ministry is listening.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached on [email protected]

 


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