Indian hospitals have been struggling to compete against international hospitals to attract patients at various forums, such as events, lectures, exhibitions and symposiums without the hoped for results. The medical tourism industry in India is still maturing due to various reasons that are well-known to the regular readers of this magazine.
To accelerate this movement of international patients to Indian hospitals, I propose the following:
India has many hospitals and clinics (approximating to 22,000) that offer treatments in nearly every medical sector including cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, joint replacement, orthopedic surgery, gastroenterology, ophthalmology, transplants and urology.
The various specialties include neurology, neurosurgery, oncology, ophthalmology, rheumatology, endocrinology, ENT, pediatrics, pediatric surgery, pediatric neurology, urology, nephrology, dermatology, dentistry, plastic surgery, gynecology, pulmonology, psychiatry, and general medicine and surgery.
Board certification from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Japan are valuable assets that can be used to promote healthcare services in international markets, as well as cutting-edge technology and equipment.
Another marketing strategy used by service providers is to offer more value to differentiate from increasing competition and, thereby, create more convenience and efficiency for patients and stronger customer relationships.
Some of the non-medical care services include online arrangements, such as travel coordination, language interpreter/ translation, guest-houses or apartments for patients’ relatives adjacent to the hospital, hotel selection and reservations, sightseeing tours inside a city, medical transportation both on land and in air, and one-to-one nursing care.
Some major healthcare service providers in India have expanded their businesses overseas by investing in and/or operating hospitals or medical centers. These clinics, diagnostic centers, pharmacies and hospital networks are also used for follow-up on patients who got treated in India. Thereby, the strategy is to be well- framed for the “specialty” in which the hospitals work to increase brand value.
Indian hospitals have an advantage among their competitors due to their high standards of medical treatments and services offered to patients at a very competitive price. India treats many complicated medical procedures at a cheaper cost compared to many developed countries.
However, in terms of infrastructure facilities, such as roads, sanitation, power backups, accommodations and public utility services, much more is needed for India to become a medical tourism destination. It is important and essential to introduce standards in pricing of procedures in Indian hospitals. This needs to be followed at least by market leaders to generate trust among medical tourists.
The Internet is the primary means for disseminating information related to medical and non-medical care services offered by every healthcare service provider. It is the most cost-effective way to extend a product to targeted customers and, at the same time, help patients acquire correct and valuable information that allows them to make informed decisions.
Service providers use the internet to market available medical treatments and confirm patient confidence. Many aspects, like two-way communication; facility, treatment and service descriptions; quality assurance and other concierge procedures are also presented on the internet to attract patients into a medical traveling program.
Most of the healthcare service providers generally need the help of facilitators to promote their medical tourism efforts. These facilitators provide information and recommend patients and their related treatments to hospitals.
These people work as a center-point of contact for cooperation between patients and hospitals for screening cases and transferring all appropriate medical reports. In some cases, facilitators are responsible for advertising and marketing protocols related to assurance and reliability for healthcare service providers in potential countries.
India has a large pool of doctors (approximately 600,000), nurses and paramedics with required specialization and expertise, and the advantage of speaking English.
Major healthcare service providers in India, particularly large private hospitals, need to participate in tourism marts, international medical fairs, medical tourism exhibitions, seminars, conferences and advertise in travel magazines in countries with support from the government.
In addition, other informative materials, such as corporate brochures, leaflets, multimedia and t-shirts with logos, can also be used to create awareness of the healthcare services available.
Hospitals need to build cooperation with local institutes, universities and medical schools in other countries and collaborate on education and training for doctors and nurses; conduct surgical camps, establish telemedicine, information and satellite centres and outreach activities overseas; work in conjunction with United Nations projects, and CSR activities with Overseas NGOs; and exchange knowledge as well as promote alternative healthcare services.
Hospitals should also advertise to healthcare service providers about medical and non-medical services in both local and international media. News articles and videos related to quality standards of medical treatment, rare surgeries, unique techniques, technology and quality assurance/awards/accreditation need to be available online and to the international media. These activities create awareness of the medical treatments available as well as build a positive image of high-quality and international standards of medical care in India.
The next strategy Indian hospitals may use to attract international patients to their low-cost treatments is to offer access to well-trained medical specialists who are qualified from established institutes overseas including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Germany.
In the international arena, specialized and qualified doctors and staff can provide a competitive advantage to hospitals. There is also a lack of training in international marketing for staff otherwise well-versed in healthcare industry operations. This sector needs skilled manpower with immense knowledge to explore international markets for Indian hospitals.
However, a shortage of doctors and trained medical staff is also a major concern in Indian medical tourism. Furthermore, patient culture is also misunderstood and considered a challenge to medical tourism in India as well.
Patients seeking medical treatments are concerned with quality; defined by accreditation from a recognized international organization that audits medical quality. India has a large pool of doctors (approximately 600,000), nurses and paramedics with required specialization and expertise, and the advantage of speaking English.
The medical education system caters to the ever-increasing demand for the delivery of quality healthcare services across the country. The Joint Commission International (JCI) recognizes and accredits hospitals that meet or exceed those standards of medical facilities in the West.
In India, large facilities including Fortis Hospital, Apollo Hospitals, Wockhardt Hospitals, Medanta Medicity, Max Hospital, Breach Candy Hospitals Lilavati Hospital, and Manipal Hospitals are equipped with cutting-edge technology as well as the infrastructure to offer spacious, luxury rooms and excellent amenities similar to those found at five-star hotels for patients and their relatives. This competitive advantage will help gain confidence and trust among international patients, making India a preferred choice among medical tourists.
About the Author
Guru Prasad serves as senior The next strategy Indian hospitals may use to attract international patients to their low-cost treatments is manager in the international marketing department of Fortis Healthcare Limited, in New Delhi, where he has marketed products and services for the past 13 years.
He has spoken in many countries including Korea and Russia, among others, and is also responsible for organizing and executing health camps, lectures and joint surgeries between nations and the medical fraternity representing Fortis Hospital. He has researched and prepared a thesis on “Strategy to Increase the Brand Value of Indian Hospitals in International Market.”