Danish Ahmed, Hospitals, Health News, ET HealthWorld

Shahid Akhter, Editor-in-Chief, ETHealthworld, spoke with Danish Ahmadco-founder and CEO, Hospals, to learn more about the rebounding saga of Indian medical tourism success that has rejuvenated itself with stronger advancements in Ayush and Ayurveda.

Medical Tourism: Global Trends
Medical tourism is a $78 billion industry worldwide. Patients travel from developed countries to low-cost countries for certain dental and cosmetic treatments. For example, American and European patients travel to countries like Turkey, UAE, and Thailand to get cosmetic treatments. And then you have patients from emerging countries like Africa, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Myanmar who go to developing countries because of the availability of health care. So there are these two different audiences. Moreover, as the middle class grows globally, health consciousness also grows globally and patients reach out to explore better healthcare opportunities.

You have a very, very large number of patients, several million patients who have to travel for surgical treatments that are not available in their country, but they have the means to travel abroad and benefit from these treatments which are not available locally. And similarly, we have patients in the western world who now travel more for hair transplants and dental treatments to countries where they are available at lower cost. So those are the two big trends.

Medical tourism: impact of COVID
During COVID, medical travel has been significantly hampered. Before that, it was growing at a rate of 25% per year. But now, as soon as flights have restarted, we are already back to pre-COVID numbers. And there is a huge backlog of patients who have a strong desire to travel. We expect this significant number of patients who will now come back and start to travel, and therefore the growth of medical tourism will return.

Medical tourism: the strength of India
India is extremely strong on the medical side of things (the travel), not on the cosmetic side, but on the medical side. There are, you know, almost 2 million patients.

People who come to India every year, before COVID, nearly half a million come on medical visas, the rest come on tourist visas. That’s the market estimate we have, and they generate a total of $4 billion in medical travel every year for hospitals in India. Some of the larger hospitals derive 10-15% of their business from international patients who come to India, mainly for cancers, heart transplants, orthopedic care as well as neurological care. India’s high quality surgical talent and high quality nursing talent are its major assets. And this is how the country has won the trust of all its neighbours.

There are children, there are old people. There are now even government-sponsored patients, and these patients come to India and come back healthy. We have seen cases where patients came when they were told they would not survive, but received treatment in India and left healthy. Families have been saved and millions of families, you know, so India’s contribution to the health situation in Africa, Asia and developing countries is commendable.

Medical Tourism: @Heal Efforts in India

The Indian government has recognized that medical travel is a champion sector. “Healing in India” is a key objective for the government. Recently, during investment for “AYUSH” summit, Prime Minister Modi spoke about the investment opportunity in medical tourism and how “Heal In India” can become one of the biggest brands of the decade and I have personally had the privilege of engaging with government on different occasions. And since their efforts are very, very important, they are sincerely looking into medical tourism and how it can happen and India can become the number one destination for medical travel. This is the aspiration and the ambition with which the government pursues this. You know, start at number two, number three, that’s the number one position in the world that we pursue.

We have very important assets. We have our AYUSH and wellness, which is very unique in India. We have a cost advantage that is unmatched. There are surgeries in India that can be performed at 1/50th of the cost of the same surgery in the United States, and hence the quality of Indian healthcare is remarkable. Not only in India but even globally, surgeons from different parts of the world come from India. Hence, the Indian quality of healthcare is well recognized. The investment we have made in medical schools, and now that we continue to do so, is creating the health talent needed to serve the world. And for sure, India will be the number one destination for medical travel and “Heal in India” will become a highly recognized global brand.

Medical Tourism: Challenges
The main challenge India is currently facing is that the structure of the industry is such that the quality parameters are not well defined. When patients come to India, there is no structure. For example, there are tour operators, which are licensed tour operators available for tourists, coming to India. But for medical tourists coming to India, there is no structure available at the moment. The government is working on that and also on the ecosystem outside the hospital. Although healthcare and hospitals in India are of very high quality, they are certified. But patients actually spend 80-90% of their time outside the hospital in guest houses. And I know the markets, and the ecosystem needs to be highlighted and significantly improved because that’s where most of the patient complaints come from. So, while health care in India is of high quality, the ecosystem around this health care needs to be put in place. If you compare countries like Turkey, they have invested heavily in the ecosystem around hospitals and so it’s a real medical tourism that patients come for and the quality of infrastructure around that healthcare.
Medical Tourism: Opportunities
The main opportunities for India in terms of medical tourism, Ayurveda, Ayush. People regard India as the country of God. And so this aspect of Incredible India, coming here to relax, to detox is really taken. There are many western countries whose patients and clients come to India for relaxation and detoxification. This aspect is going very well and in addition to the purely medical aspect, Indian health care is developing. We have treatments like proton therapy available in India which are not available in countries around us in Asia. Hence, the quality of patients is increasing as more unique and high quality medical treatments come to India. We will continue to be the hospital of Afro-Asia and will continue to attract millions of patients to India for medical treatment.
We launched Hospals in 2018, with the vision of creating a platform for medical travel packages and becoming a bridge between emerging and developing countries, taking care of them, providing them with health care when ‘come here and sending them healthcare digitally. So we do a lot of teleconsultations. We have served over 26,000 patients. We have generated over a hundred crore in business for hospitals in India. We serve patients from 38 countries.

These are largely patients who come for chronic and acute treatments such as cancer, heart and orthopedic transplants. We have grown very well. We had two really bad years during COVID, but now after COVID we are back to the same numbers as before COVID. We are growing very well. We recently raised a $10 million investment to continue our growth and scale the business.
At Hospals we continue to deepen our service. We ship cosmetic wellness as well as medical and hospitals. We have set up teams in Thailand, UAE and Turkey to grow the business globally. We will continue to invest heavily in patient acquisition. A large number of NGOs, ministries of health and governments have started working with us. We are currently working on acquiring insurance clients, as well as opening offices this year. We are planning to set up 22 offices around the world through which we can network locally and receive patients from different companies, hospitals and travel agencies who will come to India and learn about the Indian healthcare system, both from the medical side and from the AYUSH side. .

Hospitals: Advantage @Technology
Given my background in technology, I’ve been an entrepreneur, I’ve started and, you know, grown e-commerce businesses. When I looked at medical travel as an opportunity, the key element that was missing here was technology, which is a large-scale enabler. And that is what sets us apart at Hospals. Patients get a one-stop solution where they can find the best surgeons, they can teleconsult these surgeons, they can book appointments, they can book hotels, they can book flights, they can book translators and even taxis.
Once the team is engaged in managing our patients, they use the mobile apps, the patients use the mobile apps, and so we are able to track all the patients even though we have 600 patients and that’s the maximum that we have processed at one time. We were able to manage them seamlessly.

Patients because of the technology that we used, which is the key factor in scaling this business. We aspire to become a company that serves 10,000 patients per month, and that is only possible with technology, which is a key differentiator.