Medical tourism: the effective pill for Goa

Medical tourism in Goa is in nascent stage and needs concerted efforts from all stakeholders to takeoff in a proper way, says Shoma Patnaik

If you are a resident of Calangute-Candolim, beach belt of north Goa, you’d know the thriving practice of dentists in the locality. Most of them make big money catering to foreign tourists from Russia and other countries. Dentists in the beach belt charge a bomb from foreigners for any kind of treatment. They charge at least 35 per cent higher and make a killing doing root canals, caps, clean-ups, orthodontic braces, etc., from foreign patients during peak season.

While stakeholders of Goa’s tourism are talking of boosting tourism, the dentists and general physicians of Calangute-Candolim beach belt are an example of the potential of medical tourism in the state. They need regulation, monitoring and are into money making but are creditable nevertheless for promoting Goa as a destination for medical tourists.

On a larger canvas medical tourism in the state is at a nascent stage. According to private sector hospital heads not much is being done to boost the potential of the sector by tourism officials or the trade body, viz. the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) in terms of marketing and publicizing. Doctors heading the hospitals say that, tour operators hardly advertise the existence of modern, hospital facilities to their clients. And so the effort of attracting medical tourists is wholly individual.

Even so despite the lack of collective push medical tourism in Goa is improved over the years. Specialty hospitals that have made significant investments in setting up modern infrastructure are keen to cater to the segment and are all for it.

Goa has an edge over other states in attracting medical tourists although not enough is done to boost the sector, says Dr Shivkumar, head, Vintage Hospital, Panaji. “We typically get foreign patients for knee and hip replacements surgeries and cosmetology is another growth area,” he says. The hospital has a thriving practice in cosmetology treatments in weight reduction, hair transplant, etc. it caters to upward of 300 medical tourists annually, points out Dr Shivkumar.

Ground level check reveals that cost is a major reason for tourists coming to India for treatment. And they usually come in for heart bypass surgery, knee-hip replacements, gastric bypass, face-lifts, tummy tuck, etc. The prime medical treatment cases go to the metro cities. However attempts are being made to attract high-end tourists.

“Our regular treatment is always there but we are focusing on value added treatments, says Dr Shekhar Salkar, clinical head and HOD oncology, Manipal Hospital, Dona Paula. The hospital is receiving lot of queries for bone-marrow transplants, kidney and liver transplants, he says. Manipal’s tourist patients comprise around seven to eight per cent of the total patients and the track record is improving, claims Dr Salkar. The hospital is trying to convince tourism department officials to make it a part of travel brochures printed by it, he says.

Goa’s medical tourism has suffered a hit from the turmoil in the Russian economy, point out several doctors. Fewer Russian charters in the 2015-16 season has affected the number of foreigners checking in for treatment, says doctors.

Experts from tourism are also of the opinion that the state while promoting medical tourism must not neglect the alternative medical therapies that are a huge attraction among foreigners. Ayurveda centres, homeopathy and yoga also need to be promoted as part of medical tourism, they say. Some Ayurvedic and nature care centers have already achieve success in attracting only foreign tourists and more need to come up, point out experts.

Modern infrastructure, good cafeteria in hospitals, transport connectivity, accredited hospitals, tie-ups with foreign health insurance companies are the essentials for success of medical tourism, according to the players in the field. “People coming in for medical treatment arrive with relatives and they need good cafeteria facilities,” points out Dr Shivkumar.

On the positive side, Goa’s track record in medical tourism is nascent however it is better than Kerala which is famous for ayurvedic treatment but not popular for medical treatment.

Medical tourism has lot of potential but more promotion and awareness needs to be done, say Dr Salkar. His hospital is gearing up with innovative heath checks, vaccines and specialty treatments. It is also partnering with GTDC and department of tourism towards promotion, he says.