New Delhi: Apoorv Jain, 27, is waiting for a client outside the international terminal at Delhi airport in the dark, pre-dawn hours. Dressed in blue jeans and a crisply ironed shirt, he shifts his weight anxiously, eyeing passengers as they emerge from the terminal
Though the sun is yet to rise, the airport is a crush of taxi drivers, luggage trolleys and passengers. Three shiny ambulances are parked behind rows of green and black taxis, waiting for their wards. “This could be him,” he says, jerking his head towards an elderly man in a white kurta-like shirt and blue-and-white checkered keffiyeh—a traditional Arab headscarf for men—being wheeled out the door by another, youngish-looking man.
Medical consultant Apoorv Jain talks about the business of medical consulting and why it is important for international patients to be routed through people like him
Drawing medical tourists
Dr. Mukul Jain’s hospital offers medical care to patients from all around the world. She talks about why she got into the field and the opportunities it offers
“This is the tricky part—a lot of others try to take our clients here. So I’m hoping that’s not what is happening now,” Jain says.
This is often the time his day begins—while the rest of Delhi is still sleeping, Jain is waiting for clients. “Many of the people flying in on these flights are here for medical tourism,” Jain says. “And a lot of those guys…,” he jerks his chin in the direction of a tightly packed group of men jostling for attention of the new arrivals, “…are people claiming to be medical facilitators, though most of them are probably just students or translators. No medical background at all.”
Jain, a chemical engineer with an MBA degree in finance, is one of a growing number of medical consultants—middlemen who help connect international patients with Indian doctors and hospitals for a variety of medical needs.
Co-founded with Mukul Jain, a doctor and the medical director for Chikitsa Multispecialty Hospital in Saket, his company, Delhi AADI MediTour India, provides services ranging from logistics—airport pick-up, securing accommodation and even SIM cards for mobile phones—to medical consulting, connecting patients with the best hospitals, doctors and specialists that fit their needs.
“It’s a very competitive industry,” says Jain. “The profit margins are very high, so a lot of people are trying to get into it—and there’s a lot of fraud in the industry. Patients have to be very careful.”
While India has been a major contender in the medical tourism industry since the 2000s, consultants such as Jain have only begun to emerge in the past five-six years, as more and more of India’s hospitals entered the market to woo potential international clients.
“Originally, medical tourism was just another brand of tourism,” Jain says. “But when people come independently, they don’t know what to do—where to stay, what questions to ask, what is normal and what isn’t,” he says. “Our company is part healthcare provider, part tour guide, part therapist. We hold their hand from the moment they get off the plane until they get on again.” Most critically, each individual case is reviewed by a doctor before the patient arrives in India, in order to decide which hospital and doctor would be best suited for the patient’s treatment. “The patient has to be thoroughly briefed on the complications, the side effects of the consequences of the treatment that he or she is undertaking in India prior to arrival, and also after consultation with the respective doctor.” says Dr Jain. “This is very important.”
With more than 200,000 foreign patients entering the country for treatment in 2008, and industry growth rates of 30% a year, according to a study by McKinsey and Co. and the Confederation of Indian Industry, India is quickly becoming one of the top global destinations for medical tourism.
By 2015, it is projected that India will receive over half-a-million international patients a year. Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd, India’s largest healthcare chain, runs more than 53 different hospitals and treated more than 95,000 overseas patients in 2010. Many more are considering the South Asian nation as an option because they are reluctant to accept the long waits and high cost of treatment at home.
Making a connect: Apoorv Jain with a patient at Chikitsa Multispecialty Hospital in New Delhi (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
The increase in the number of reputed hospitals has been a mixed blessing for international patients, who often feel at a loss for hospitals and doctors that actually provide the best care—and a niche market of medical consultants such as Jain has emerged to respond to this demand.
Jain co-founded AADI MediTour with Dr Jain two years ago, after working as a consultant on a market report on medical tourism in India. “I realized there’s tremendous demand in this area,” he said. “It’s a rapidly growing industry with a huge market base—and there’s also a tremendous need on the part of patients for ethical players.” According to Jain, India’s medical tourism industry boom is primarily fuelled by two categories of clients—those from Western countries, who come primarily for “luxury surgeries”—cost-effective cosmetic and plastic surgery—and those from developing countries who come for critical care (such as cancer treatment, heart surgery, organ transplants, treatment for orthopaedic and neurological disorders) that might not be available at home.
“A lot of those patients can’t necessarily get visas to visit hospitals in the US or the UK, so they come here,” he says. “I’ve had patients from Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Egypt and Uganda,” he says, tapping them out on his fingers. Cost, convenience, waiting time and accessibility also contribute to India’s rise as a preferred destination for medical tourism.
Today, Delhi AADI MediTour is based out of Chikitsa Multispecialty Hospital in Saket, where a team of doctors lead by Dr Jain reviews each individual case prior to the patient’s arrival.
Jain’s work begins before his patients even enter the country—from helping patients book tickets and arranging airport pick-up and hotels, to preparing them for possible complications. People get very nervous about coming to a new country for something as critical as medical care,” he says. “Although people can network directly with hospitals, it’s impractical—people do not know what the best hospitals are. Relationships can make all the difference. In some hospitals, it can take two days to get a bed—we can get it in 4 hours.”
One of the more critical aspects of his job is advocating for patients at hospitals, and intervening if complications occur. “There are so many patients who come alone and fail to get proper treatment. For example, there was this patient who came from Nigeria for an eye treatment. He had one eye that was blind, and the other with only 60% vision,” says Jain. “After paying close to $10,000-12,000, the right treatment didn’t happen, and he lost his eye. Because he came alone, no one was there to fight the case against the hospital.”
But the company’s competitive advantage hinges on its ability to refer patients to specialists who can provide the best care for their individual cases. “Having a medical background is extremely important in this industry,” says Dr Jain. “Without a medical background, I don’t think that it’s possible for anyone to give the right advice. Also, it cuts short the waiting time, as we know exactly where to send them.”
As more hospitals enter the international medical industry, Jain has accompanied patients to see medical specialists in Bangalore and Delhi, and has plans to expand internationally. “Every hospital may not have a good specialist in each super specialty—so to understand the problem of the patient and to understand who is a good doctor in that super specialty is very important,” he says. “We believe that a good medical broker is patient-centric—not hospital-centric. Such patient care is what really sets us apart.”
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