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Sun, Fun and Liposuction

An operation theater at Manipal


Goa’s Medical Tourism Boom

It may come as a surprise that not all foreign tourists come to Goa to drink beer, party, and get a suntan. Or, for that matter, do drugs. But what if the drugs we’re talking about are penicillin, aspirin and some post-surgical pain killers? And what if the same folks partying on the beach decide to go in for some liposuction or a root canal while they’re here?

Medical tourism in Goa is big and getting much bigger. It’s the reason you see so many elderly foreigners all over Goa staying on for months on end. Any why there are so many dental clinics all over the coastal belt, and so many super-specialty hospitals coming up in Goa.

The reason is simple.

Typically Goa offers up to 85 % off on international pricing for high quality treatment, which means costs here are often around one-tenth for similar treatments in the West. A heart bypass surgery that costs $130,000 in the United States costs $10,000 here. A face-lift costing $20,000 in the U.S. costs $3,100 here. Hip resurfacing costing $48,000 in the UK costs $7,000 here. You get the point.

“The Goa government has been highlighting the various medical facilities available here at various tourism and travel marts in the West, and the response has been good,” says Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar. According to industry sources, medical tourism now accounts for around 25 % of the revenues of Indian hospitals, and is growing at around 30 % annually. An estimated 25,000 foreigners arrive in Goa each year for some sort of medical treatment.


Interiors of the patient room at Wockhardt


Alec, a 62-year-old Russian tourist, is one of them. He suffered an accident three years back that resulted in severe knee pain. While he was back in Russia, an acquaintance had told him about the quality medical care available in Goa, and he started checking around on the internet.

“One particular hospital caught my attention, Manipal Hospital, which was recommended by my own friends travelling there and getting great treatment. Given the reputation of the hospital, cost advantage in India and my vacation, I decided to email Manipal Hospital,” said Alec.

“The hospital staff were very polite and replied to me promptly. I was quite surprised to see the cost for treatments in Manipal Hospital; they are more economical than the hospitals in my country. I started talking to the hospital if I can have an evaluation with them on my knee pain; the hospital agreed and gave me an appointment.

“When I landed in Goa, my experience was absolutely fantastic. I had a person from the hospital waiting at the airport to receive me and my wife,” he says, comparing his exclusive room and the polite staff at the hospital to a five-star hotel. “I decided to have my knee replacement there and was discharged in five days. In the mean time my wife got her dental treatment done and cosmetic procedure done at an unbelievable price.”

Despite the excellent care you can expect at hospitals like Manipal, NUSI Wockhardt and Apollo Victor, visitors are advised to be careful when coming to Goa for medical procedures. Some foreigners complain of scams, unsanitary conditions, unqualified doctors and shoddy service.


Interiors of the patient room at Manipal


Many such complaints come from foreigners who find themselves in random Goan hospitals following some kind of emergency. Overall, those who come here specifically for medical reasons do their home work and end up in good hands. Hospitals like Manipal, NUSI Wockhardt and Apollo Victor are all great choices. As are some other establishments that have a proven track record, such as Loocs Cosmetic Clinic, which specializes in hair, skin and cosmetic surgery, with branches in Panjim, Calangute and Candolim.

The recent Goa Investment Policy announced in 2013 has outlined the importance of medical tourism in taking forward Goa’s story. Setting its sights on the emerging segment of health and wellness tourism, which attracted over 1.3 million people to India in 2013 alone, the draft policy suggests that Goa has “good basic healthcare infrastructure” to cater to the segment.

“While medical tourism is growing in Goa, the Government is keen to attract investments in new facilities and draw more medical tourists to Goa for high-end and complicated procedures. For medical tourism to take off in a big way, uniformity and quality of services offered are critical,” said Atul Pai Kane, the Goa chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) who authored the draft policy.

Richard, a Goa regular, who comes visiting from the UK every year, says, “Most people know about Goa’s excellent dentists, but they are now moving into general medical tourism too.”

His hospital of choice is Vrundavan Hospital in Mapusa. “With state-of-the-art facilities like spiral CT scans, excellent private wards, and more than enough nurses, this place has my own personal recommendation.”


Manipal’s slogan


But like with many other aspects of the tourism industry, medical tourism also suffers from seasonal fluctuations, with a season and an off-season. Says a dental surgeon who has a practice in Calangute, “Sometimes, during the entire off-season you don’t get a single customer. Also before there were more English charter tourists who would be our main clients; now there are hardly any English tourists coming, so that has also affected our business. Now the Russians are the biggest group, but to interact with them we need translators. Not everybody can afford to hire a translator to be on hand all the time.” He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Besides the large number of dental surgeons, lots of cosmetic surgery clinics have sprouted in touristy areas like Calangute, offering procedures like liposuction, breast enhancement, nose reshaping, hair transplantation and others. Often, leading doctors from Mumbai, Delhi and other metros, visit Goa to perform the procedures.

Many leading Indian hospitals like the Apollo Hospitals, Wockhardt Hospital and Manipal Hospital, have branches in Goa and fly in their best surgeons as and when needed. For the more complicated surgeries, like kidney transplants, patients have to fly to the main hospital, which could be in Chennai, Mumbai or elsewhere.

The growth story of medical tourism is expected to continue at least over the next five years, riding piggy-back on Goa’s booming tourism industry. Says Ralph DeSouza, spokesman of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, “Medical tourism in Goa can grow at a much faster pace than it’s growing now. We have very good facilities in Goa with brands like Apollo, NUSI, Fortis and Manipal, among others, well established in Goa. We have state-of-the-art facilities in the private sector and smaller hospitals, diagnostic centers, as well as dental care which are very popular with foreigners and have an extremely good potential for marketing.”

He adds, “We do need to market tourism more aggressively, highlighting the type of care we offer including the super-specialty units that exists in Goa.”

Victor Albuquerque, who owns the sprawling Victor Exotica Resort in Candolim, has forayed into the hospital business by starting the Apollo Victor Hospital and also an ayurvedic resort Devaya on Diwar island. “Medical tourism has great potential and is attractive for the European visitor because of the vast difference in cost,” he recently told reporters.

Perhaps the best thing about medical tourism in Goa is that once you’re done with your procedure, you have the sun and the sand at your fingertips.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Ross da Costa

    True, and its good for the economics of Goa.
    The main infrastructures such as good roads & comunication systems have to be improved for better service. The goverment should take na active part in this as it is also revenue for them.

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