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Beyond Superbugs

BANGALORE’S robust medical tourism infrastructure is strong enough to weather the storm raised by the Superbug controversy, asserts the big players in the field. Here’s a closer look.

If the “Superbug” challenge were to be taken seriously, it could strike at the very heart of Bangalore’s recently acquired tag as the country’s leading medical tourism hub. But the City’s super speciality hospitals are convinced they have enough patient flow and proven tertiary medical care expertise to face any challenge, genuine or fabricated. 

The superbug finding by UK scientists has definitely triggered a serious look at the unregulated use of antibiotics. While that is welcome, the controversial “New Delhi” tag attached to the bug is unlikely to make a dent on the steady flow of global patients into the country, and Bangalore in particular. “The number of people coming here is only growing, especially by word of mouth,” contends Vishal Bali, COO of the City-based Fortis Hospitals, a key player in the field. 

Bangalore’s emergence as a top-notch health tourism hub shows in the steady stream of foreign patients, the systems put in place by various hospitals and the networking.  For instance, the Apollo Hospitals group has direct tie-ups with some foreign governments, and information centres across 30 countries. It receives over 3,000 foreign patients annually from Tanzania, Iraq, Uganda, Oman, UAE, Maldives, Mauritius and Fiji.

Ravindra Pai from the Group says: “We fix the entire cost of the treatment and stay. Accordingly, we receive them at the airport and take care of their need till the time they stay here.”

The Fortis Hospitals group, another big player, has links with governments in five Middle East countries. Foreign patients constitute almost eight per cent of the group’s patient base. Interestingly, while the patients come from Africa, East Europe, West Asia and Africa, over 50 per cent of the international patients are from developed countries. 

Most international patients at Fortis are here for joint replacements, minimally invasive neuro surgeries, cardiac surgeries, electrophysiology (for irregular heart beats) and complex hepato biliary (liver surgery). 

The Manipal International Patient Care (MIPC) at Manipal Hospital gets nearly 3,500 patients from the UK, USA, Africa, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries every year. At the Narayana Hrudayalaya, international patients make up 14 per cent of the patient base. 

Following the British Prime Minister’s recent visit to the hospital, queries from insurance companies in the UK has increased. Eye surgeries and joint replacements are the most sought after operations for the US and UK patients. 

Extensive marketing is another critical factor. Manipal hospital doctors also have international affiliations with institutions across the world to get patients for super-specialty services including Cardiac Care, Comprehensive Oncology Care, Orthopedic services, Neuro Surgeries and Neurological Care, Uro-Nephro Services, and even Organ Transplantation.  

Most corporate hospitals in Bangalore now have an international desk, catering to foreigners. Besides the treatment; the hospital also takes care of the patients’ accommodation, travel, passport and visa issues.   To tide over communication problems of non-English speaking patients, a few hospitals also have translators. 

While lower costs and skilled doctors are key to attract foreign patients from developed countries, “accreditation” of the hospital is a crucial factor, says Dr Mohan Reddy of Sagar Hospitals. “The Joint Commission International (JCI), a global accreditation, and National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH), a national one, are the two which patients look for when choosing a hospital here.” Many hospitals have started applying for national accreditation and JCI to woo patients from abroad.   

Government institutions 
Sensing the big opportunity, Government hospitals such as Nimhans (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) and Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research have also jumped into the health tourism bandwagon. 

Seeing the huge patients’ response from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan and African countries, Jayadeva has decided to set up an exclusive international block, informs the institute director, Dr CN Manjunath. 

NIMHANS currently receives over 100 patients a year from Bangladesh, Nepal, Middle East, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Kenya and the UK. According to the Institute director, Dr P Satishchandra, since it is also a World Health Organisation referral centre for psychiatry and neurology problems, NIMHANS is much sought after by patients from developing countries with inadequate medical facilities.

(Published in Deccan Herald; along with Poornima Nataraj)

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