There is no doubt that India is at the advent of a boom in medical tourism. According to ASSOCHAM (The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India), India’s medical tourism is expected to grow at a rate of 30% annually. Although India is relatively a new entrant in this sector, it is gradually becoming the preferred destination for other nationalities looking for affordable yet high standard medical treatment. The most sought after treatments in India include heart surgeries, dental care, orthopaedic and cosmetic surgeries. India can boast of many reasons why it could be preferred over the other countries that offer services, like Costa Rica, Greece, South Africa, Jordan, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore.

The total cost of treatment is much below the international average that one has to pay. ASSOCHAM has revealed that the cost of heart-valve replacement surgery can reach up to $ 0.2 million in the US, whereas the same could be performed in India for around $10,000 (inclusive of airfare and stay)   with absolutely no compromise on the standards of treatment and the healthcare infrastructure available. Many of India’s private hospitals are JCI accredited and have deployed world class healthcare infrastructural facilities. For example, Apollo Hospital Group, the first Indian hospital chain to receive JCI Accreditation, has over 8500 beds across 54 hospitals located in the major cities of India, including New Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.  Apollo hospital group is currently collaborating withJohns Hopkins Medicine International.

Trend towards Wellness Tourism

With present day lifestyles becoming a major cause for various illnesses, there has been a growing demand for rejuvenating therapies worldwide.  Countries promoting medical tourism have extended the scope of their services to include an array of wellness awareness programs .India, being the origin of Ayurveda, Yoga and Sidha, has an edge over other countries trying to tap this potential market. However, medical/wellness tourism is still in its nascent stages.

Source: http://blogs.reuters.com/from-reuterscom/2009/10/28/graphic-medical-tourism-by-country

The above graph throws light on the fact that despite offering the most affordable medical treatment compared to other countries,Indiastill has a long way to go before becoming a leader in this industry. The gap between the potential number and the actual number of foreign patients Indian medical tourism attracts is still wide. In order to keep up with growing competition, reaching a wider international market is India’s primary objective in terms of medical tourism.

How can Indian medical tourism industry grow further?

The primary step to increase the flow of foreign patients toIndiafor medical services would be to create awareness about the availability of such services. The concept of medical tourism is still new or even unheard of to many. Getting treated for illnesses in a foreign country brings in a lot of skepticism to the minds of  patients. HenceIndianeeds to promote this industry for better reach.

Making India a memorable place that sticks in patients’ minds can also be achieved by promoting the aspects of medical tourism alongside holiday-tourism. Tourism is one of the most thriving industries in India,which is currently one of the top tourist destinations in Asia. Online advertising has played a major role in its promotion. For example,the Indian Ministry of Tourism partnered with Microsoft to launch an online advertising campaign across MSN/Windows Live platforms that ran in the US, Europe and Asia from October 2006 to May 2007. Colourful, creative and rich banners ran on MSN Homepages and channels such as Travel, News and Entertainment. Opt-in email newsletters were sent to MSN Hotmail users who had shown an interest in travel earlier.

The campaign was a big success and enabled the Ministry of Tourism to reach out to their target audience. The following graph shows  the results of the campaign in terms of numbers:

Source: http://advertising.microsoft.com

If the campaign to promote leisure tourism had such an overwhelming response, a similar campaign performed to promote Indian medical tourism could have a similar or even better response in terms of recollecting the advertisement.

 Online marketing strategies to augment the Indian medical tourism industry:

Source: www.choicemedicalservices.com/mta_releases%20first_patient_surveys.html

The graphs above clearly indicate that patients looking for suitable medical treatment in another country find out information about such services mainly on the internet.  With the potential to become the leader in the medical/wellness industry, Indian healthcare providers as well as the health tourism agents should invest more in online marketing channels that can reach a wider target group. One such important online marketing tool is social media, a tool that has revolutionized the way information is shared on the internet. The advantage of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogging platforms, and Wikipedia is that they have a wider reach, being more accessible to the general public than traditional print media whilst also being more cost effective. Implementation of social media strategies can also enable patients to have a two way interaction with the providers of such services.

Implementation of apt digital marketing strategies by the Indian healthcare providers can help attract international patients as well as investors who would like to set up partnerships with the Indian healthcare sector. The Apollo Hospital Group inIndiahas an ‘International Patient Service’ section on their website that also has a ‘Live Chat’ facility to assist international patients. They have also partnered with Lufthansa Airlines to provide discounted air-fares for medical tourists coming to their hospitals for treatment.

The success story of digital marketing campaign aimed at promoting medical tourism

To enhance Thailand’s global position in the medical tourism industry, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) launched a very effective eMarketing campaign one year ago. The TAT launched an integrated medical tourism website called ThailandMedTourism in October 2010 to promote the benefits of this practice. The three initiatives that they implemented were:

  1. The launch of a a medical tourism blogger contest encouraging bloggers to raise awareness of Thailand’s medical tourism industry: this contest attracted 219 applicants from 24 countries. Of the total applicants, the TAT selection committee shortlisted 12 finalists who got an opportunity to tour over 50 health and tourist centres withinThailand. Based on their experience of these visits, each of these finalists had to write their final blog post explaining why Thailand should be considered a top medical tourist destination. The blog with the most votes won prizes worth US $ 20,000.
  2. The TAT, along with Royal Orchid Plus launched the HealthyBeautyHoliday website, a resource that provides information related to various medical tourism products, spa treatment, hotel deals, and so on.
  3. Lastly, TAT launched the You Are In Good Hands portal, aimed at emphasizing the safety and high quality of the medical services offered in Thailand.

Medical tourism is a highly competitive industry, and for any organization to become a leader in this field, they should make effective use of digital marketing components like social media, search engine marketing and optimisation, online advertisements & e-mail/direct online marketing