12 November 2010
By Rukmini Shrinivasan
There is, however, a crucial difference. While most international medical tourists to India make the journey because it offers massive cost savings, domestic medical tourism is largely driven by poor health infrastructure in rural areas and small towns. That’s clear from the fact that 86% of all trips taken for medical purposes are by rural Indians and the poorest spend much more proportionally on medical tourism than the rich.
The data is part of the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) 65th round on tourism, which estimates the number and purpose of trips taken by persons in its representative sample of seven lakh people, as well as their expenditure on such trips. The survey defines a "trip’’ as the movement for a period of not more than six months by one or more household members travelling to a place outside their usual environment and return to their usual place of residence for purposes other than migration or employment and which is outside their regular routine of life.
The data shows that trips for health and medical purposes form 7% of all overnight trips for the rural population and about 3.5% for the urban population. While "social’’ purposes were the main reason for travel for both rural and urban residents, "holidaying and leisure’’ accounted for even less than medical travel – 2% and 5% for rural and urban India respectively.
Similarly, 17% of same-day trips in rural India and 8% in urban India were for health reasons. While calculating the expenditure on a trip, the NSSO includes all goods and services bought or consumed by the traveller. The high cost of healthcare is borne out by the fact that trips for health and medical purposes were four times as expensive as the average trip for both rural and urban populations.