India’s leading hospital chains want the government to reduce visa fees, set up dedicated immigration counters and offer tax sops to encourage medical tourism.

The tourism ministry has already proposed e-visas that will make it easy for foreign patients to visit India and boost medical tourism  On Thursday, the home ministry announced that foreigners visiting India for short-term yoga programmes and short duration medical treatment under the Indian system of medicine will be able to apply for an e-tourist visa.

The tourism ministry has also set up the National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board  to focus on issues related to visa, marketing and  promotion, and accreditation of hospitals from all branches, including ayurvedic and unani. But the industry feels the government could do a lot more.

According to Ficci’s 2015 white paper on medical tourism, about 270,000 foreign nationals came to India for medical treatment in 2014, registering a growth of over 17 per cent from the previous year. Yet foreign patients account for less than 3 per cent of the total foreign tourist arrivals into the country. Foreigners visiting India for medical treatment are issued a medical visa that is separate from a tourist visa and has a higher fee.

“Creation of health care infrastructure to attract more overseas patients can be augmented with progressive fiscal measures. Framing guidelines for promoting medical value travel (MVT) through embassies, service tax exemption for 10 years on MVT procedures, providing 100 per cent tax exemption on revenue generated through MVT could augur well for the industry,” said K Hari Prasad, president — hospitals division, Apollo Hospitals.

“The proposal of the government to issue e-visas for medical tourists is forward looking. Visa extensions if required for prolonged treatment must be equally trouble free if recommended by bonafide doctors and hospitals,” said Sunil Kapur, head sales, Fortis Healthcare.

Fortis earns about 10 per cent of its revenue from international patients. “We treat around 25,000 international patients at our hospitals in Kochi and Kozhikode a year. The international patients mostly come from Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kenya and Maldives. Their number is growing at a rate of 25 per cent every year and contributes to almost 18 per cent of total revenues,” said Alisha Moopen, executive director & CEO (hospitals & clinics), Aster DM Healthcare

“Currently, for patients travelling from the Gulf, there are no issues of visa delays. However, from African countries such as Nigeria, the waiting time is huge — ranging from four weeks to a few months. The medical visa is almost double the price of the tourist visa, and documentation is much complicated. India is losing in this sector to countries like Thailand where the visa process is much simpler,” she added.

Travel companies have set up separate divisions to focus on attracting medical tourists.

 

Hospitals seek tax sops, easy visas for medical tourism

“We have representatives in Africa and Gulf regions to facilitate patients who want to come to India for treatment We seek medical records from patients keen to visit India for treatment and forward them to hospitals. We share hospital advice and quotations with the patients. We also share our own recommendations to the patients. We handle 25-30 patients every month for all kinds of procedures,” said Shalini Sharma, assistant team leader of Medi Connect India, a travel service provider.

 

Hospital chains including Fortis, Apollo Hospitals, Medanta and others have been investing in facilities and partnering with foreign governments and insurance companies to make it simpler for foreign patients to get treated in India. Fortis and Apollo Hospitals for instance offer services such as airport pick up and drop, interpreter service, meal options to foreign patients and their attendants.