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hospital: Indian hospital chains sense the need of the times, head overseas

Indian hospital chains are trying to flip the medical tourism model, by speeding up direct entry into geographies such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa and the rest of South Asia that are the sources of patients to India for various ailments.

Executives at top hospital chains told ET that the decision to go international has been on the anvil even before Covid, but now they are seeing a need to hasten that process due to accelerating inflation, high travel costs, and also the respective governments’ push to generate local employment and cut dollar outflow.

Apollo Hospitals, India’s largest healthcare provider, is at the forefront of this global push.

Apollo early this year signed an operation and management agreement with a local partner in Uzbekistan to set up a tertiary-care hospital and also recently entered into another similar agreement in Bangladesh to operate and manage a 375-bedded multi-specialty hospital in Chittagong, which was built with funding from the World Bank.

The hospital chain is evaluating more such opportunities in several other countries.

“We are operational now in Bangladesh, we are operational in Nigeria, we have a project in Uzbekistan, we have four feasibility and commissioning studies in Samoa Islands, Ghana, Cameroon, and Zambia,” said Dinesh Madhavan, president, group oncology & international, .

Madhavan said Apollo plans to triple or quadruple its managed-care beds from the current 1,000 beds overseas in the next 3-4 years. Much of the Apollo expansion will be in asset-light models through brand licensing, operations, and management agreements.

“Patients from each one of these countries, today if they have to travel out, imagine with the current inflation how much of a burden it is to families and to the economy with a dollar outflow. At Apollo, we are creating an ecosystem for them; we are also retaining and strengthening the economy in some form,” Madhavan said.

Apollo isn’t alone. India’s third largest hospital chain,

, is actively exploring opportunities to have direct presence in several of these markets.

“Yes, we could not pursue some of our plans during the Covid years. We believe the time is now ripe to have a direct presence in some of our key markets,” said Anas Wajid, senior director & chief sales and marketing officer at Max Healthcare.

Other healthcare providers such as Narayana Health and Shalby Hospitals too have entered low- and middle-income markets and have plans to expand their footprint.

Executives say having a direct presence will no way impact their medical tourism business, but on the contrary it is providing a boost, as hospitals have more control on patients right from diagnosis to treatment and the recovery process. Medical tourism accounts for about 10% of revenue for large hospital chains.

“In fact, we found out that having a direct presence is more productive, as more patients are coming now. Earlier, patients would go and be redirected to 10 different places. Now, when they come to the Apollo system, they are backward integrated to us only,” Madhavan said.