India ranked third in the world in medical tourism in 2012, with Thailand leading and Hungary in the second position. The hallmark of medical tourism in India is care. The author underscores this aspect: “India is still a caring society – though this is fast going.
As many patients, both American and European have noted, this adds a subtle and intangible value added factor to the quality of medical care in India.” “Man does not live by bread alone. We have had in recent years super specialty hospitals rise where cutting-edge care is given at a pittance to the indigent. These are largely staffed by disciples of the leading gurus of India with a strong spiritual bent. For them medicine is now more a calling rather than a vocation”, says the author.
Starting sometime in the early 1990s the IT revolution took off in India which has revolutionized many aspects of Indian industry. It led to the rise of Indian global IT giants and world class firms Infosys, Tata Consultants,Wipro and a host of others. Now in the 21st century it is the turn of the global medical industry to take advantage of world class quality and ultra-competitiveness of Indian medical services. There are estimates of 20% to 25% compounded annual growth in medical tourism to India for at least the foreseeable future.
The first wave from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) commenced some time ago. The second wave from the advanced European countries began not too long ago. With the rise of Obamacare it will now be the turn of the medical tourism rush from the US and Canada. In some ways it should be easier for the medical tourism industry to draw clients from the US since many of India’s leading doctors of today trained in the US and are intimately familiar with the culture, procedures and standards in the US. They dominate in several medical fields in the US at the leading research institutions. That apart there is a subtle factor.
India is still a caring society – though this is fast going. As many patients, both American and European, have noted this adds a subtle and intangible value added factor to the quality of medical care in India. Plus there is the image of Indians in the US as being the most advanced and affluent immigrant community. In math, science, medicine, R&D and the teaching professions the reputation of Indians is unrivalled. More important Indians are not viewed as a hegemonistic / imperialistic threat anywhere in the world – our excessive non-violence (ahimsa) fetish has some use after all, vis a vis for example the Chinese.
The other great civilization out of Asia is viewed with deep suspicion as monolithic, mercantilistic, hegemonistic all over the world. Now to speak in a larger context. Whether this medical tourism boom and the resulting affluence of the medical sector will lead to the improvement of general medical care for the vast impoverished masses of India is the real issue. One hopes that it will. The second factor is whether it will lead to the growth of cutting edge medical R&D establishments in India which will advance the frontiers of medical care. Once some 2000+ years ago in the time of Charaka and Susruta, c.f. Charaka Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam, India nee Bharatavarsha led the world in the sophistication of its medical AND SURGICAL care theory and practice.
With the wholesale destruction of the native culture through the millennia of Islamic conquest, rapine and genocide much of this vanished. Then it was the turn of the English for about 200 years. There has to be pride in one’s cultural heritage and a resolve / samkalpa to bring about a cultural renaissance where such services and arts will rise to the top again. We have been successful in the IT industry; it is true. But some 25 years after the boom began we have still not advanced as far as we could / should have to rise above the cyber coolie image.
There is not as much real cutting edge IT innovation and research taking place in India as would have been possible. The cutting edge work is still being done in the US and Israel. As someone who worked in the consulting industry in a senior capacity, I have seen that the level of professionalism and training in even the best Indian IT firms is far below what it is at the elite global consulting firms out of the US / UK / France. The low level work was taken up by India / Indians.
Now that India is being priced out the work is moving to Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh and elsewhere. One hopes there will be more thoughtful and professional planning and assistance at the central government level for the medical services industry. There is an inherent advantage here which was not there in the case of the IT industry. Many of the medical professionals involved are wealthy to start with having been for decades in the US. They have the top level socio-political contacts. The issue is how much of a pro bono orientation will guide their actions. Man does not live by bread alone.
We have had in recent years super specialty hospitals rise where cutting-edge care is given at a pittance to the indigent. These are largely staffed by disciples of the leading gurus of India with a strong spiritual bent. For them medicine is now more a calling rather than a vocation. With the rampant growth of materialism and conspicuous consumption aping the West, will much / any of the old values which made Indian Hindu society a survivor for some 5,000 years continue? That is the real question. Let us hope and pray and all do our bit to ensure that the age old values flourish in the India of today and the future. (The author is based in New York and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)