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India causes heartburn in US

Outsourcing is not the only reason why Americans are unhappy with India. Medical tourism seems to be giving them a heartburn too.

And in order to stem this outflow, American hospitals are going in for aggressive marketing strategies and making patients aware about safety and insurance issues.

Anything to save their turf. Richard Merli, managing editor, Health Care Insider, KPMG, recently wrote in his weekly health analysis: "American hospitals may dismiss those patients as low or middle-income consumers who lack health insurance and might not get the procedure done in the US.

But industry observers say that the exotic locales and prospect of a vacation is attracting many wealthy patients to have elective surgeries done abroad." Last year alone, around 1.5 lakh medical tourists visited India.

According to CII, their numbers are growing at 15% per annum and by 2012, medical tourism will generate $2.3 billion annually.

In fact, the allure of low-cost medical procedures has tempted many Americans to make a trip to India. No wonder US hospitals are raking up safety issues to limit the outflow.

Merli argues that foreign hospitals often require medical tourists to sign contracts waiving their right to sue the institution/physician for malpractice.

Patients may have little recourse for a botched-up procedure, or may face costly complications once they return to the US.

Adds Saul Helman, Pharmaceuticals Practice, MD, KPMG, "All the protection afforded by the US health care system — board-certified physicians, the FDA and a legal system that supports patient rights — are void as soon as one steps out of the (country).

A patient runs the risk of being exposed to a physician not trained to the level expected in the US. They may also be exposed to non-FDA-approved medication and devices or techniques."

Indian hospitals however feel this is a knee-jerk reaction. Anne Marie Moncure, MD, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, says, "Every year, 98,000 patients die in US hospitals due to medical negligence and three to four times that number is left permanently-disabled.

Clearly, American hospitals are on the defensive. This is a typical case of American protectionism. Patients are looking elsewhere simply because the US has not done enough to cut costs."

As for FDA-approved techniques and devices, they’re used by all hospitals that attract medical tourists. "At Apollo, Delhi, the 64 slice CT angio machine manufactured by Toshiba is the same as that used at John Hopkins Hospital, New York. Stents too are FDA-approved, so where’s the difference?" Moncure asks.

There are also nearly 41,000 doctors of Indian origin working in the US presently. In fact, physicians from India are considered among the best in the world.

Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director, Apollo Group asks, "Why would anybody want to travel outside if they get the same quality at lesser cost.

Surely, we are giving them a better alternative. Also, many of the elective procedures they come for are not covered by insurance in the US."

Interestingly, in a bit of reverse marketing, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is reaching out to patients outside the US who may wish to get complicated surgical procedures done there.

An influx of foreign patients, they feel, will offset American patients who opt to go overseas. The long-term solution, says Harpal Singh, chairman and MD, Fortis Healthcare, lies in partnerships. "It’ll be mutually beneficial for both them and us."  

(http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com)

 
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