Take a Chill Pill, Save on Medical Cost
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01 June 2011
Medical tourism helps you get the best treatment at minimal cost. It also offers you the chance to visit a new place
The southern star’s case was a classic case of emergency. However, there are many patients – especially expatriates – who plan their surgeries or medical treatment in foreign countries or cities to benefit from lower healthcare costs without any compromise on the quality of the treatment.
Concept of Medical Tourism
Just as working professionals mix business with pleasure, individuals have the option of mixing health with pleasure. An individual residing in the US or Europe can seek medical attention in India or other South Asian countries such as Singapore at just a fraction of the price back home. It could be a heart ailment, orthopaedic problem or even a cosmetic surgery. The idea is to fly to a country with a lower medical inflation, which reduces your overall bill amount. What’s more, you also get a chance to tour that country!
Good Option for NRIS
"It is a good option for people staying abroad, who are not insured/underinsured because of the high cost differential in medical facilities between India and other countries," says Rahul Aggarwal, CEO of Optima Insurance Brokers. "In the UK for instance, every medical treatment has to be routed via the NHS (National Health Service). There are few options when it comes to private doctors in the UK. As a result, a patient has to wait for a very long time to get his/her turn. Hence, countries such as India and Singapore have a clear edge over western countries, both in terms of the number of hospitals and the cost advantage," says Aggarwal.
Within India, an individual can think of going to only smaller towns, which may come with a host of other issues. "The social overhead cost of smaller towns is lower because of cheaper paramedical staff cost and outdated equipment, which can compromise the overall quality of treatment," says Aggarwal. New Delhi gets the maximum medical tourists as it is the capital and has better air connectivity. After New Delhi, the preferred destinations are Chennai and Hyderabad, say experts.
Factors You Should Consider
"You have to identify the country and a city with good and easy air connectivity," says Raj Raina, deputy general manager – marketing, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals. "Secondly, you should identify a hospital depending upon the availability of the treatment, the cost and the success rate. Lastly, you must check the credentials of the hospital/consultants (JCI, UK or US Board Certified)," he says. "Patients from the the US, UK and Europe give a lot of importance to JCI accreditation."
"I would advise patient to give more importance to the doctor than the hospital," says Radhakrishna Chamarty, director of India Insure Risk Management and Insurance Broking Services. "The surgeon or the specialist makes a bigger difference than the hospital. In fact, the same specialist may practise at different hospitals. You can choose one of those hospitals rather than settling for the brand of the hospital."
The Cost Matrix
It is not just the treatment or the doctor’s fees that matters. You have to put a rupee value to every service and goods before and after hospitalisation to know the accurate cost of the entire exercise. Then you will be able to make fair comparisons across different cities and hospitals.
For instance, a medical procedure may involve a certain recuperation period, which will add to your lodging costs, cost of air tickets of the patient and the relative, cost of professional help/nurse post the medical intervention, etc. Sometimes, the hospital designs the entire package and gives an approximate cost to the patient, which can help him/her make an informed decision.
"When a patient writes to us, we ask them to send us the latest medical reports. On the basis of the reports, the doctor gives the line of treatment and the approximate cost. The patient carries the treatment cost, package inclusion/exclusions, guest house expenses before/after the surgery and, of course, the travel cost. Hospitals typically have guest houses/hotels in the vicinity. Patients can select an option as per their budget and specification," Raina of Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals says.
Challenges in Medical Tourism
While this route does seem like a winwin situation for the three parties involved – the policyholder, the insurer as well as the TPA, it’s not without its share of hurdles. "Unlike in the developed economies like the US or Europe, hospitals are not rated in India," Aggarwal of Optima Insurance Brokers says.
"There is no third-party agency such as an ICRA or Crisil to rate the hospitals. A customer sitting in Delhi is unable to compare the cost differentials of a four-star rated hospital in Delhi vis-à-vis a four-star rated hospital in Chennai. Hence, a consumer has to rely on friends' or relatives’ opinions on a particular hospital or a doctor to make decisions," he says.
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