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Medical Tourism: Americans Find Low-Cost Treatment in India

Medical “tourism” is becoming a huge industry in India. Many types of medical treatment in India cost a fraction of what they do in the United States and other Western nations, and citizens from these countries are flocking to India by the thousands. Until recently, it was the other way around, as upper-income Indians commonly rushed to America and Europe for sophisticated treatment.

With world-class medical care, equipment and facilities now available in India, patients from the United States and other developed countries are going there for treatment. A number of private hospitals in India offer packages designed to attract foreign patients, with airport-to-hospital bed transfer service, Internet access, and other facilities. Some packages include add-ons, such as a yoga holiday or a trip to the world-famous Taj Mahal.

Howard Staab, a 53-year-old carpenter-contractor from North Carolina, was diagnosed last year with a serious heart condition. Mr. Stabb’s doctor recommended surgery as soon as possible. But he had no health insurance.

The estimate for hospital care alone was nearly $100,000. The cost for the surgeon, the cardiologist, the anesthesiologist, the radiologist, and the pathologist, along with the cost of a heart valve and prescription drugs, has brought the total up to a staggering $200,000 – assuming no complications. Howard Staab did some research and decided to go to Escorts Hospital in New Delhi, where the estimated cost was under $10,000, including airfare, surgery, and rehabilitation.

“I was apprehensive (in the beginning) because I had no experience with India or about the quality of care, and the situation there,” says Mr. Staab. “But my experience was superb. From the time we arrived at the airport, Escorts(Hospital people escorted us to the hospital, gave us excellent care. The surgeons and all the staff were extremely professional, kind and caring. Everything went very well and I was so satisfied and impressed with the care.”

Dr. Naresh Trehan is the executive director of Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi, a leading private healthcare provider. Dr. Trehan worked as a heart surgeon in Manhattan from 1968 until 1988, but returned to start the Escorts Hospital Group in India. He says the success of the operations performed and the care dispensed at his hospital have established the institute’s credibility:

“Now we do over 4,000 heart operations a year, and the mortality, which is an index of how well things are, is 0.8 % which is even better than most places in the world. The other thing that we measure is infection rate. Ours is 0.3 % as compared to the world average of 1%.“

Dr. Trehan says American citizens not covered by insurance – or those in countries such as the United Kingdom where there are long waiting lists for many National Health services - prefer to receive treatment in a country like India where top-tier institutions can provide high-quality health care at a fraction of the cost:

“The American system is excellent, but the cost and the compulsion to send people home early is actually stressing out many people, and they prefer to come to our country where we can take care of them in a more comprehensive manner. Our nurses are being trained to U.S. levels. Two hundred of our nurses have already gone to the United States for training. Our doctors have established their credentials all over the world. Today, 7 percent of doctors in America are Indians and 11 percent of the specialists are Indians.”

Language is another big advantage in India, says Howard Staab, who spent more than three weeks in Escorts Hospital and at a resort, recuperating after surgery: “Doctors and nurses were all Indians, and many of the doctors were trained in the United States and Britain and most of them spoke very good English. I did not have any trouble understanding them.”

Howard Staab’s partner Maggie Grace, who accompanied him on his medical trip to India, is writing a book about their experience. “We want to help people in the United States know they have choices,” says Mr. Staab. “There will be our book coming out very soon. My partner Maggie Grace is writing it. The book title is “Patient Pilgrimage: A True Story of the First Americans Travel to India for Heart Surgery” and the website is”

Howard Staaab says one key to his trip’s success was that it combined a high degree of medical excellence with a human touch.

India is hoping to expand its medical tourism industry. In addition to Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi, Apollo is another major hospital group and is one of Asia's largest private healthcare providers. Apollo Group has six hospitals in India, one in the southern city of Hyderabad where Apollo also has its headquarters. Other Apollo hospitals are in New Delhi, Chennai (formerly Madras), Lucknow, Pune and Kolkata (Calcutta). Apollo has treated 43,000 foreign patients during the last three-and-a-half years.

Several medical experts say India has established expertise in practices such as cardiac care, cosmetic surgery, joint replacements, and dentistry. And it has immense potential for medical tourism as medical costs skyrocket in the United States and other developed countries.