It’s 8:33 PM. An email has popped up in medical tourism facilitator medECUBE’s inbox. It’s a cry for help from a brother in Cameroon whose sister has been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. The treatment isn’t available locally. His only affordable option is an Indian hospital. They, however, have not responded for over 48 hours. Enter Indian medical tourism facilitators that can be easily found on Google. About 24 hours later, the woman is getting treated at Max Super Specialty hospital in Saket, Delhi.

This brother is not the traditional medECUBE customer. He is part of a small percentage who seek medical treatment in India. Others have to be lured. medECUBE was established in 2016 by 52-year-old Dr Dilpreet Brar, who raised $4 million from the Silicon Valley-based venture fund Artiman Ventures. She prefers that medECUBE be seen as a “Care Coordination Concierge”; not just a “medical tourism” service provider. With one aim: to guide domestic and international patients through the maze that is Indian healthcare.

“We solve the pain points, like discovery and access to the right doctor, getting a second opinion, helping make complex decisions. A few domestic patients face these issues, but all tourists face them,” she said. While the former constitute 30% of the 9000 patients that the company has worked with, the majority of medECUBE’s Rs 4.5 crore ($693,306) revenue in the second year came via medical tourists travelling to India.

Government initiatives

The government has launched a healthcare portal, separate immigration counters at major Indian airports, and has allowed e-medical visa to promote medical tourism since 2016.

The medical tourism market is currently assessed at $3.9 billion in India, growing at nearly 30%. medECUBE, having acquired venture capital and accreditation by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH), wants to grab the lion’s share of the market. Especially now that developed countries like the UK are looking towards India. The UK’s National Health Service’s (NHS) over 10-member delegation led by its director Sir Malcolm Grant was in India last month visiting Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram (FMRI) and Max Saket among other hospitals in Delhi. It was their second visit since the vote on Brexit in June 2016, and now, the NHS can send British patients to hospitals in countries other than Europe.

But will these tourists choose the larger organised facilitators? Patients from across the world, who are coming to India for the skilled Indian doctor and the affordable, state-of-the-art hospitals, have another choice—thousands of fly-by-night operators who offer a good bargain.

The unorganised market is dominated by translators and travel agents, often seen at airports.

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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