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For medical tourists, cash ban a bitter pill to swallow

Virendra Pandit Ahmedabad | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on December 09, 2016

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Many postpone/cancel their visit, or shift to other destinations

Thailand and other countries with a growing medical tourism industry may have welcomed the demonetisation drive in Indian.

In the current winter season of medical tourism, 50-60 per cent of foreigners visiting India have either postponed or cancelled their tours, or shifted to Bangkok and other destinations.

And the potential loss pegged to the Indian exchequer due to this shift could be more than $1.5 billion (₹1,100 crore).

In 2014 and 2015, nearly 2 lakh and 2.40 lakh medical tourist, respectively — mostly from West Asia, Africa, Russia and former USSR regions — came to India, which offers relatively less expensive healthcare. The Ministry of External Affairs issues special visas to these medical tourists. Exact data on NRIs and PIOs were not immediately available, as they usually visit home on long-term or non-medicare visas.

In 2015, India’s medical tourism industry’s market size was nearly $3 billion (₹ 2,100 crore), which was projected to go up to $8 billion (₹5,600 crore) by 2020, with a 15-20 per cent annual growth rate in number of patients.

“On an average, a foreigner seeking healthcare in India spends around $15,000 on their visit. They mostly visit during winter. But during the past one month since demonetisation, around 50 per cent of our clients have postponed, cancelled or shifted to other places,” Anshul Mittal, co-founder, Konsult App, a healthcare teleconsultation platform, told BusinessLine.

Cash crunch

These patients, he said, mostly depend on hard cash — Indian rupees or US dollars — as they have no bank accounts in India.

Vipul Jain, founder of Noida-based stem-cell therapy start-up Advancells, said: “Except in emergency cases, almost 60 per cent of these patients have postponed, cancelled or shifted their date with doctors, as they cannot suddenly arrange new currency notes. They mostly come from relatively poor countries. We even helped some of them shift to other destinations.”

Published on December 09, 2016
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