December 4, 2023

Business Visa

The Business Visa Is Mightier Than Sword

Government has taken various steps to boost medical tourism: Sridhar Keppurengan, Business Head, Cross Border Payments, Visa India

Medical tourism plays a crucial role in allowing patients to access high-quality healthcare at an affordable cost. Consequently, this has enabled healthcare providers expand their patient base and increase revenue.

Over the years, India has flourished tremendously in the medical tourism sector. Earlier this year, Union minister of state for tourism Shripad Naik said that an estimated 1.4 million medical tourists visited India in the past one year. Moreover, India has been ranked 10th in Medical Tourism Index (MTI) for 2020-2021 out of 46 destinations of the world by Medical Tourism Association.

As per a report by Visa and EY, 21 per cent of international trips are medical-driven. Additionally, India ranks at number 7 amongst the 20 wellness tourism markets with over 560 lakh trips made to India for medical value tourism generating 16.3 billion USD in revenue.

In an email interaction with Financial, Sridhar Keppurengan, Business Head, Cross Border payments, India & South Asia, Visa talked about the impact of medical tourism on Indian economy, factors influencing the growth, role of payment networks, and Visa’s upcoming plan among others. Excerpts:

What is the status of medical tourism in India? How is it making treatments affordable?

The combination of modern and traditional forms of healthcare places India in a unique position for wellness and medical tourism. Per a report by Visa and Ernst and Young (EY) titled ‘Charting the course for India – Tourism Megatrends Unpacked 2022’, a sizeable 21.2% (3,24,000) of foreign tourist arrivals in India were for medical reasons. The report also shows that wellness and medical tourism has the potential to create 24 million jobs in the country by 2032 (up from 14 million in 2022). The various initiatives by the Government of India and healthcare industry such as the recently launched Ayush Visa, are unlocking the tremendous potential of this segment.

The segment can be categorised into three parts:

  • Medical treatment: Treatment for healthcare services, for e.g., elective procedures (hip, knee surgeries) and complex surgeries (cardiac surgery, cancer treatment etc.)
  • Wellness and rejuvenation: Offerings focused on stress relief, spas, and retreats (Vipassana)
  • Indian traditional medicine: India’s rich history of traditional medicine represented by AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy) with an advantage of highly qualified physicians and nurses is gaining recognition worldwide.

A primary reason for the surge in medical tourism is its cost-effectiveness, for which the government and private healthcare providers are working to create a supportive environment with streamlined visa processes, developing medical infrastructure, and fostering collaborations between hospitals and international insurance companies. Going forward, tech-innovative methods like robot-augmented medical procedures will become more cost-effective, and India is expected to lead this trend.

Basis your partnerships in this space, can you tell us about some of the key anxiety points in this process/ and how can this be addressed. Your Visa – EY report pointed out to the increasing need among passengers and travelers for integrated solutions allowing them to plan and pay for their travel, appointments and stay. How big of a factor is this in enabling the growth of medical tourism?

Many patients visiting India for surgeries rely on (a) advice of friends and family who have undergone similar procedures, (b) references from their local doctors and (c) their own research. The medical attendant/caregiver too is a critical decision maker regarding the hospital, the doctor and other logistical arrangements. A key aspect of this is payment, not only in terms of treatment costs, but also in terms of mode of payment, whether it should be cash, cards or other digital payment methods and if they will face challenges in the destination country i.e. India. As newer geographies such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Turkey vie for a larger share of the medical tourism industry, it is imperative that healthcare providers in India work with their banks to have the convenience of accepting international card payments. Integrated solution providers in India can facilitate the growth of this sector by providing guidance or facilities such as:

Streamlined booking and coordination: of their arrival date, medical appointments, post-treatment recovery periods, payment methods and follow-up visits. With an integrated solution, these bookings can be streamlined and aligned with the treatment plan for the patient.

Convenience and ease of travel: Where do I land in India, and how do I get to my destination? Is it possible to book end-to-end tickets online, and will my credit card be accepted?  What is the recommended amount of cash I should carry? All these questions are on the minds of patients or caregivers while choosing a location. In all of this, payment is central.

Cost transparency: by displaying estimated overall expenses associated with medical treatment and travel.

By leveraging technology to create seamless and convenient platforms, the medical tourism industry in India can attract more patients and provide them with a positive and well-managed journey for their medical treatments abroad.

How can a data-led tourism ecosystem in India improve patient care through medical tourism? India ranks at number 7 amongst the 20 wellness tourism markets with over 560 lakh trips made to India in 2017 per a report by the Global Wellness Institute generating 16.3 billion USD in revenue. What are some of the key driving factors? What more needs to be done in this segment?

Medical and wellness tourism is undoubtedly a growing driver for the growth of India’s tourism industry. The government has taken various steps to leverage and introduce initiatives to boost medical tourism. A few factors like the Heal in India campaign, special visa for medical tourists and the growing number of hospitals receiving the Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation have helped in successfully driving the sector. While India has made significant strides in the medical tourism segment, more can be done to further enhance this industry by focusing on the following areas:

  • Infrastructure investment: Continued investment in healthcare infrastructure will help maintain and improve the quality of medical facilities and services available
  • Standardisation and accreditation: Ensuring that medical facilities meet and exceed international standards of quality and safety is crucial to maintaining trust and attracting more medical tourists
  • Language barriers: Improving language translation services and cultural training for medical staff can enhance communication and overall experience for international patients.

Could you please share some insights into how payment networks can play a crucial role in the medical tourism sector?

As mentioned earlier, caregivers are equal decision makers as patients in this process, as they are responsible for managing all logistics and payments. It is here that we would like to reiterate the role that international card acceptance plays in elevating the overall experience within a country. Many hospitals are constrained by an established cash acceptance limit, and it is therefore imperative that the entire medical value chain (hospitals, diagnostics, pharmacies, and nursing care providers) accept international cards, so that patients don’t have to go through the additional burden of withdrawing cash or relying on expensive currency exchanges.

Transparency on foreign exchange rates and associated charges further bolster this trust and reduce anxiety. As a global leader in payments and money movement, Visa also provides robust fraud detection, protection and mitigation solutions so travelers can avail seamless, safe, and convenient services.

What are Visa’s upcoming plans in this area? Are there any initiatives or partnerships on the card?

Visa continuously works with acquiring banks in India (that provide the POS devices or payment gateways) to ensure the widest international card acceptance so travelers from numerous countries can avail of medical procedures across the country. This is not only within a hospital but also across complementary sectors, encompassing diagnostics, pharmacies, dental care, cosmetology clinics, and increasingly among AYUSH service providers. Separately, we ran a pilot partnership with a medical tourism aggregator in India to offer Visa card holders a 5–10% discount on hospital care. For this, Visa ran a campaign in the source country, where this intervention was shared with the public, and witnessed significant increase in the volume.

Anything else that you would like to add?

With growing needs for a cost-effective healthcare assistance and enhanced wellness infrastructure, the medical tourism sector in India remains promising. We are open to working with the Government and the private sector to promote wellness and medical tourism through partnerships as well as through our unique ability to market this in various source countries given Visa’s global presence.