Sweet pill for Kerala – medical tourism

Thiruvananthapuram: World class hospitals, cost-effective treatment and ample opportunities to relax in the scenic landscape of ‘God’s own country’ — medical tourism promises to be the next big money spinner in Kerala, with a steady stream of overseas patients flocking to the state.

The few nationally and internationally accredited hospitals in the state are doing brisk business, with foreign nationals making a beeline for procedures like knee replacement, weight reduction surgery, liver transplant, cardiac care, ophthalmic care and dentistry.

Most of the foreign patients are from Canada, the Gulf countries, the Maldives and many are also second generation Malayalis settled in the US and Britain.

While there are no official state-wide figures, E.M. Najeeb, founder of KIMS Hospital here, says the institute treated around 40,000 overseas patients last year.

“International insurance companies look for international accreditation if they have to pay their clients, and hospitals interested to get favourable treatment from giant insurance companies have to meet international standards in providing quality healthcare,” said Najeeb.

In terms of expenditure, a knee replacement in Kerala costs Rs.2.5 lakh ($5,600), less than half of what it would cost in the US or Europe.

Similarly, a liver transplant here can be done at a cost of Rs.1.5 million ($33,700), while in the West, a patient has to shell out anywhere above Rs.7 million ($157,000).

Tourism Minister A.P. Anil Kumar said Kerala has the potential to cash in on the twin benefits of cost and quality.

“One main reason why we are getting a huge number of foreign nationals, mostly from the Middle East, is because our own people act as ambassadors of our hospitals in the Middle East. I have just become the tourism minister and we will promote medical tourism in a big way abroad,” he said.

S. Sudhindran, a surgeon with Kochi-based Amrita Hospital, has treated many liver transplant patients from abroad.

The hospital treated around 10,000 foreign patients last year.

“Yes, the response from abroad has been good. The state government also has to do its bit by framing rules that will help foreign nationals have a smooth stay and not get caught in numerous paper works,” he said.

According to Ashley Jacob, medical director of Mulamoottil Eye Hospital in central Kerala, eye care is all set to become a key revenue earner for the flourishing medical tourism industry.

“The totally blade-free LASIK (Laser Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis) surgery costs Rs.60,000 here and Rs.85,000 in Bangalore. The same procedure will cost $2,200 (Rs.97,000) in the US and 1,500 pounds (Rs.100,000) in the UK,” said Jacob.

Jancy Joseph, who has been running a private dental clinic in the state capital for 15 years, gets a steady stream of foreign patients, mostly from the West and Middle East.

“Most of my non-resident patients are referred here by their friends and relatives in India. They have told me that dentistry rates in the West are 10 times higher, compared to here,” said Joseph.

John Muthoot, who owns two plush resorts in the state, said he has decided to venture into the medical tourism industry to cash in on the trend.

“Our first venture into the medical field is through a 50-bed hospital coming up in Kottayam. Medical tourism is one segment which we are keen to tap because we already in the tourism industry, and thus have a huge clientele,” said Muthoot.

There has been an 18 percent growth in the arrival of foreign tourists in Kerala, with the numbers touching 659,265 last year. By Sanu George