Experts say the entire industry was affected because of the lockdown, travel restrictions, lack of adequate connectivity – both internationally and between states. Currently, the revenue from other states and countries stands between 30-40% of the overall revenue of the leading private hospitals in Chennai, resulting in a significant drop in business.
“We are seeing positive signs in the number of patients travelling from neighbouring states from September onwards. Medical tourism from other states has picked up and may bounce back earlier than expected. However, we haven’t seen any positive signs in international cases. The bounce back in international cases depends on various factors including safety in cities pitched as medical tourism centres during COVID-19, confidence of patients, increased air connectivity etc,” said R Rajmohan, General Manager of Operations at Rainbow Children’s Hospital. “We are seeing green shoots in medical tourism both from other states and other countries. Chennai is likely to reach the pre-COVID medical tourism numbers from other states in February 2021. But, the overseas business may take a longer time to bounce back,” said R Rajmohan.
Though the earnings of the private hospitals had witnessed fall in revenue of up to 50 per cent – both due to delays in elective procedures, and a fall in medical tourism, some healthcare providers see it as
an opportunity to focus on the regional sector. Dr Arun Kalyanasundaram, Chief, Division of Cardiology, Promed Hospital, Chennai said the steady stream of international and out-of-state patients have inevitably been affected. Some of this has been offset by the increasing number of COVID admissions. However, Dr Arun stressed on focusing on regional healthcare and to look inwards. “Patients locally not only need to be treated for COVID-19 appropriately but also need care for other medical conditions. Elective surgeries and important cardiac procedures were put on hold. In several hospitals, even emergent procedures such as angioplasty for heart attacks, are not being offered due to the COVID scare. The care provided in India typically is way more cost-effective compared to many countries, yet on par with international standards. Hence, as we will learn to live in the post- pandemic world, medical tourism in India will get back on its feet,” added Dr Arun Kalyanasundaram.
Private healthcare providers and specialists said that medical tourism contributed between 25 to 60 per cent of the total patients in various hospitals in Chennai. The city witnessed a tremendous fall in
medical tourism inflow from March. Most of the patients needing elective care decided to stay back or started taking consultation from their local doctors. As the pandemic spread, Chennai witnessed a drop of 90 per cent of medical tourists as only patients with special travel permits were able to visit. Medical tourism expert Immanuel S said that what was once perceived as a temporary phenomenon, gained universal acceptance and the medical tourism industry is not going to see revival immediately. “With the States slowly opening their borders and the flights resuming, this will slowly prompt patients to plan their visit to Chennai. Patients are becoming aware of the safety protocols and their responsibilities. The backlog of elective cases will surge in 2021 and the demand to visit Chennai will pick up rapidly in 2021. Though the medical tourism industry is sceptical about the near future, the industry is agile and will bounce back in 2021 with more vigour and more to offer,” added Immanuel.