TNM reached out to several leading hospitals in Hyderabad — known for medical tourism — to find out how the pandemic has affected the inflow of patients.

ICU ward in a hospital set up for Covid patients Image for representation/PTI
news Healthcare Saturday, September 04, 2021 - 18:45

Over the years, Hyderabad has made itself a name in the world of medical tourism. People from several countries choose to travel to the city for specialised treatment offered as attractive packages at competitive prices. In the country, Hyderabad’s hospitals record a sizeable number of people visiting from foreign countries every year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced the number of people travelling to the city for medical treatment. According to hospitals in the city, the number of foreign patients has fallen by around 70% over the last year.

Though India is a late entrant into the league of countries offering medical tourism, it is fast catching up with countries like Greece, Malaysia, Singapore etc. Internationally accredited medical facilities, highly qualified physicians and trained hospital support staff, cost-effective pricing, fluent English-speaking staff, multiple customised packages are some of the many reasons why Hyderabad is a preferred location.

TNM reached out to several leading hospitals in Hyderabad to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the inflow of patients.

Medicover Group of Hospitals: According to Srikanth Mahenderkar, Head of International Operations, Medicover Group of Hospitals, the number of foreign patients travelling to their hospital has reduced by around 50%. “We still get foreign patients for emergency procedures for cardiac, ortho, neuro-related to brain tumours and cancer-related treatments. Most of our patients are from East Africa, Iraq and the Middle East. We used to get around 70-80 patients per month from foreign countries but now it has reduced to around 30 to 35 per month,” he said.

Continental Hospital: Dr Riyaz Khan, Chief Executive Officer of Continental Hospital in Gachibowli says though the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the footfall of international patients, it has led to a spike in queries online. Speaking to TNM, he said, “The footfall of international patients has come down by 60-70%. But interestingly, our online footfall has increased drastically especially website leads, email enquiries, direct connections with regional managers, enquiries on video consultations etc.”

According to Dr Khan, in the three years before the pandemic, the hospital witnessed rapid growth in international patient footfall. Around 4,000 international patients visited Continental Hospital annually in pre-pandemic years. 

“Around 1,200 international patients visited the hospital in 2020. Over 1,500 international patients consulted our clinicians through online platforms. A majority of our patients from abroad hail from East African countries like Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda and Yemen. Most of these patients come to our hospital for treatment for illnesses related to cardiology, oncology, neuroscience, gastroenterology and orthopaedics. Organ transplantation is also another treatment that a lot of people choose to travel to Hyderabad for,” he said.

Yashoda Hospitals: Yashoda Hospitals, which records a sizeable inflow of international patients annually, saw travel plans of several patients get disrupted all at once when the flight ban was announced in 2020. However, they continued to treat patients who had already been admitted and arrangements were made for their evacuation to send patients back to their respective countries. 

Speaking to TNM, Dr A. Lingaiah, Director - Medical Services, Yashoda Hospitals Group, said, “Opening of some countries and evacuation flights from Aug 2020 opened doors to few African, CIS and Middle East countries. But again, the patients who travelled to Hyderabad were only those who needed urgent and critical treatment. Those with medical emergencies stayed back in India. Around 70% of patients who usually travel to India either postponed their plans or chose alternative options in their own country. Only 30% of the usual number of patients needing critical and definitive treatments chose to travel to India.”

According to him, outpatient load pre-pandemic generally used to be in the range of 500-600 international patients per month and around 350-375 patients were recorded as in-patients every month. “We treat patients from around 40 countries – annually around 4,000-4,500 in-patients and we record a footfall of 7,000-7,500 patients. A majority of our international patients are from African countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon, Tanzania, Somalia and Sudan. We also have a considerable number of patients from Iraq, Oman, Yemen, UAE and Saudi. Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and Myanmar are the other places we get patients from”, he added.

Most of the international patients come to Yashoda Hospitals seeking treatment for illnesses related to oncology, neuro, brain and spine treatments. Gastro and liver care, organ transplants (Kidney, Liver and Bone Marrow), and advanced ortho care like hip and knee replacements are other treatments for which patients come to Yashoda.

TNM also reached out to Apollo Hospitals, Basavatarakam Indo American Cancer Hospital and Research Institute and KIMS (Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences) for details about the effect on international patients, but they refused to share details about the same.

Read: What it’s like to get COVID-19 after taking second dose of vaccine

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