What were the factors that led you to feel that medical tourism was a hot sector to enter in India?
Advatech Health Care is an innovative health care service provider that was incubated in 2010 at STEP IIT Kharagpur and initially funded by WEBEL VC. It is the only inbound medical tourism facilitator approved by Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India. The company now has a firm footprint in the private health care markets of India and the UK. All the team members have global health care experience and are able to identify service gaps in each region that could be fulfilled by another .My career began in 1997 and grew over the years of being a medical device and healthcare infrastructure professional. I needed to travel across the world to understand the marketing strategies that could work in India. I saw the disparity between the costs in carrying out procedures expenditure in countries such as UK, Canada and the USA compared to the cost in high-quality facilities in India. In addition, there was a growing desire in the domestic market in India to generate extra revenue by dealing with overseas patients.Over the past 20 years, various companies have worked on customising medical tourism services to suit this growing demand. At present, the medical tourism market (nowadays called the valued medical traveller market) is dominated by various small companies or individuals with only a limited organisation and infrastructure. There is less focus on the overall responsibility of care and 24-hour communication and aftercare support services for these overseas patients when the situation is required. These are important and yet challenging factors that make a big difference in care for the medical tourist.
Advatech’s approach was to create a 24-hour call centre and a technology driven interface to allow clients, doctors, hospitals to communicate / share medical information with each other. Over the past four years, we have built a large network of health professionals and hospitals along with a dedicated marketing team.
In addition to the rapidly growth medical tourism market between India and the UK, other areas of growth that we are investing in are the emergency ambulance services in India and the private diagnostic services in the UK.
You are a young company yet you have found all the right partners and affiliations. Please tell us about your genesis, your journey so far, the funding, the challenges, your vision and the opportunity that you find in the sector.
It has taken a time to build the right professional network. Skills, ethics, and individual ambitions in healthcare professionals vary widely. Finding the right people who have helped build the organisation effectively, has been a matter of perseverance and luck. I travelled extensively and attended various roadshows and events. Doctors, nurses and colleagues with a similar vision and drive joined the team. Dr Bala Raju, our Medical Director had been running private clinics in multiple regions across the UK for over six years. Dr Suresh Mali, our Clinical Director comes with an extensive background experience of working as a GP in the NHS. We now have a range of other healthcare industry experts as partners and advisors to ensure the long-term viability of this complex and demanding health project.
Fortunately, our venture has not required large investments, to begin with. The costs so far have been in creating the network of professionals, building the administrative and advisory teams, IT infrastructure and marketing activities. Apart from private investments from the key stakeholders we had seed funding by WEBEL VC and a limited debt funding from a nationalised bank to buy our ambulances. It took us around three years to create the necessary infrastructure in place. As there are no set standardisations in the medical tourism sector, our efforts have also gone into developing practical standard operating procedures to ensure consistent results for our patients.
On the whole, we aggregated all the various services in the individual care pathways into a common platform for the patients. This patient management system relies on an efficient electronic health record that is now being integrated into a wider ERP solution.
As medical tourism is still largely unregulated, the fact that we rely on protocols and standard procedures has significantly reduced serious untoward incidents. The healthcare service providers in India are gradually appreciating the role that Advatech plays and our current steps are to get the insurance companies to consider customised solutions for their clients when required.
In India where more than 50% of our GDP comes from the services sector, medical tourism is still in its infancy and has a huge scope to grow. In short, this could be another success story similar to the Indian IT Sector.
What makes India such an attractive medical tourism destination?
The main reason for India being a medical tourism destination is the high levels of skills and delivery of health care in our hospitals and clinics. Indian doctors and holistic healthcare services are globally recognised and the overall cost of care that they deliver is much lower than what exists in the USA or Europe.
From Advatech’s point of view, India is a preferred destination because we can maintain the high standards that the overseas patients expect. For example, we try our best to provide services through the many World Class JCI /NABH approved health care centres that exist in India. Another advantage in India is the availability of a large pool of multi-lingual and culturally aware workforce. Based on their previous travels and expertise from around the world, they can be recruited in special situations to facilitate an open communication between the patients and the clinicians to reduce any misunderstandings and potential errors.
What specialities do foreign tourist seek in India?
The specialist services such as Joint replacement, Spinal surgeries, Dental care, Cosmetic and Fertility treatments are well known. Recent interest has grown in Ayurveda, Alcohol detoxification, holistic treatments for multiple sclerosis etc.
It is difficult and probably impossible to list the range of conditions that foreign tourists seek treatment in India, as there is no evidence base or research in this area.
There is also a trend of packing medical treatment with destination healing, something like a destination wedding. How are these destination healing packages being developed and marketed? Isn’t health a serious business quite distinct from leisure?
As medical tourism is a serious business, the term now being used for patients across the world are ‘Medical Value Travellers’. Although the markets so far are largely growing by word of mouth, the Government of India recently declared 50 Ayurvedic medical circuits across the country. Such initiatives will definitely promote medical and wellness tourism from within and outside India.
What is the model of your business? Do hospitals have a deal with tour operators or do they have their offices abroad to function as outposts?
Our business model is quite simple. We have structured care pathways for all the common conditions that overseas patients seek treatment for in India. We offer a range of options and make all transactions including any service fees transparent. We don’t charge a commission from hospitals and now encourage them to give the best prices that we can display to our clients. We charge fixed service fees to the clients depending on the level of input they require from us.
Advatech Health Care’s model also offers complete medical solution including pre and post treatment support. Some hospitals are opening up offices in different countries, but this has long lead times and could involve large capital expenditures. From our point of view, the traditional word of mouth approach with a large network of professionals is the most effective strategy. We believe that this low cost and supported service delivery model is the need of the hour for self-paying patients.
What about visa , accommodation etc? How are all these factored in by the service provider? What are the rules around medical visa in India?
The Government of India has started visa on arrival and E Visa but it is not clear whether this visa could be used by health value travellers. The process for the MX Visa holder to report and register with the local authorities is still too complicated. This does need to be looked into and made easier.
Are the policies supportive to medical tourism industry?
Some policies such as opening up 50 medical tourism circuits are welcome but there is still a long way to go. A Indian Medical Tourism Board is need of the hour, which can promote medical tourism globally and encourage more entrepreneurs and organisations to develop this industry. A steering committee should take the lead and support the interested clinics and hospitals.
Are there foreign tour operators in the field? What about FDI in the sector?
There are a few companies around but they are mostly functioning like information centres. They guide the clients with approximate price and then connect them to these services, following which they may receive a referral fee from the hospitals or clinics. We are not sure about FDI regulations in this sector.
How do you see the industry shaping up in the future? Anything else you would like to add.
India should and will most likely become a lead global health care destination in the future. Along with the wide range of highly skilled professionals our advantage is in providing the 3Cs – Cost, Culture and Connectivity.