Indian hospital chains head overseas, transforming traditional model of medical tourism

INDIA –Indian hospital chains are trying to reverse the model of medical tourism, accelerating direct entry into geographies such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa and the rest of South Asia who are the sources of patients in India for various ailments, Economic Times has reported.

Leaders of major hospital chains told ET that the decision to internationalize was on the anvil even before Covid, but they now see the need to speed up this process due to accelerating inflation, high travel costs and also pressure from respective governments to generate local jobs and reduce dollar outflow.

Apollo Hospitals, India’s largest healthcare provider, is at the forefront of this global push.

Earlier this year, Apollo signed an operation and management agreement with a local partner in Uzbekistan to set up a tertiary care hospital.

Apollo also recently entered into another similar agreement in Bangladesh to operate and manage a 375-bedded multi-specialty in Chittagong, which was built with funding from the World Bank.

The hospital chain is further evaluating such opportunities in several other countries.

We are now operational in Bangladesh, we are operational in Nigeria, we have a project in Uzbekistan, we have four feasibility and commissioning studies in Samoa Islands, Ghana, Cameroon and Zambia,” said Dinesh Madhavan, president, group oncology and international, Apollo Hospitals.

Madhavan said Apollo plans to triple or quadruple its managed care beds from the current 1,000 beds overseas over the next 3-4 years.

Much of Apollo’s expansion will be in asset-light models through branding, operating and management licensing agreements.

Medical tourism accounts for around 10% of the revenues of large hospital chains.

With the expansion into overseas markets, Apollo believes that it will create an ecosystem for patients in those markets, and also maintain and strengthen the economy in one form or another.

Apollo is not alone. India’s third largest hospital chain, Max Healthcare is actively exploring opportunities to have a direct presence in several of these markets.

Anas Wajid, Senior Director and Director sales and marketing at Max Healthcare believes that now is the right time to have a direct presence in some of the hospital’s key markets, after their expansion plans were hindered during the Covid years.

Other healthcare providers such as Narayana Health and Shalby Hospitals have also entered low- and middle-income markets and intend to expand their footprint.

Executives say a direct presence will have no impact on their medical tourism business, but on the contrary, it gives them a boost, as hospitals have more control over patients, from diagnosis to treatment and process recovery.

Medical tourism accounts for around 10% of the revenues of large hospital chains.

In fact, we’ve found that having a direct presence is more productive because more patients are coming now. Previously, patients would go and be redirected to 10 different locations. Now when they come to the Apollo system, they’re integrated into upstream only to us,” Madhavan said.

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