Being a part of this industry for quite some time now, I do feel the need to put forth some of my observations about what perception do patients who choose to travel to India for medical treatment have versus what actually they get to experience or observe (negatives and positives).
This is purely based on my experience so far as a part of the healthcare industry for more than 10 years. Open to comments and additions.
There would be multiple parts to this series, covering each and every aspect of medical travel to India and the common impression that medical tourists have as they come versus the belief that they carry with them as they go.
The basic idea is to empower patients planning to travel to India so that they come with the right expectations and mindset and obviously, not to scare them off or to prevent them from traveling to India (lol!).
In this first part of the series, let’s just talk about how simple or difficult it is to get to India and how do you expect it to feel like and how it actually feels.
Let’s get the first thing right — India is a thickly-heavily-densely populated country! So expect people, hell lot of them(and unnecessary intrusion) practically everywhere, right from the airport to your way to the accommodation that you booked. Be prepared to see the homeless on the pavements and in roadside shelters. The roadblocks and the traffic and the honking and reckless driving on the road at any time of the day may drive you crazy initially, however, stay rest assured that it will feel normal within a couple of days. It is important for you to know that it is completely normal, especially in the big metropolitan cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Pune.
An excess population means extra waiting time. That doesn’t mean excess waiting time for the treatment, which is practically zero as long as the concerned physician or surgeon gives a go ahead. Waiting time here means the time that you may have to wait for to seek facilities — your first consultation with the doctor, your cab ride, a cup of coffee at a busy cafeteria or even your turn to use the washroom in the hospital’s waiting area. Do not expect everything to be on time per se. The consulting physician may not be on time for your appointment and you may have to wait for a few minutes to a couple of hours to finally get to see him or her, depending on the situation and availability or the criticality of another case.
I make sure to let our patients traveling to India know about it in advance so they are mentally prepared. Even though they are promised to be given the best medical care possible and which is within the hospital’s capability, I make it a point to prepare them for possible challenges that they may face because of the impact of overpopulation and busy schedule of the doctors (because of excess number of patients) on their respective appointment schedule. If you are expecting a cab to pick you up at the airport (which is mostly the case nowadays), know that the guy can get late if he is stuck in traffic at a busy road.
You will have a very nice feeling about your arrival in the country as soon as you land and clear immigration (especially at Delhi airport), thanks to the infrastructure and the fancy shops. You may be expecting a person holding a placard with your name at the airport and you will find one. However, if the guy gets late because of some unforeseen reasons or if there is some kind of delay, it is normal to find a few other pick-up guys who would offer you a lift or ask you to drop at your destination and would speak the same language as yours. Mind it — through your body language and luggage, they probably know it already by now that you are a medical traveler and don’t be surprised if they offer you a trip to the hospital of your choice or may even decide to propose you better and cheaper options on the spot. This piece of information is not to scare you off but to actually point out one of the downsides of the medical tourism industry in India.
And well that’s one reason why the hospitals/facilitator keep on asking for a copy of your passport and air tickets so that they can actually keep it for their record and make it a point to fetch you safely from the airport and drop wherever you are supposed to. Also, safely picking up a patient means business to them so they have to be sure that they do it.
So here is a little piece of advice — either touch base with the hospital directly or seek services of a reputable and established medical tourism facilitator with a strong previous clientele and experienced staff on board.
Now that you have been picked up from the airport, do not expect to ride with complete comfort inside a limousine. You will be picked up in an average SUV or a 6-seater (in case of more than 3 travelers). However, if you have extra luggage and are expected to stay for over a month, expect your ride to be a little cramped up because cabs (usually SUVs/hatchback) used by hospitals in India to pick their patients from the airport do not generally have spacious trunk to carry all the luggage for a family who has plans for a long-term stay.
Here is what you can do before traveling — kindly make it clear to the person handling you about the number of bags that you may have with you as you arrive so that proper arrangements can be made beforehand and there is no showstopper.
Generally, all of the patients arriving at the airport and their attendants are given a ride in a cab to the hospital or to their accommodation. However, if you know that the patient needs immediate medical attention, may need direct hospitalization upon arrival or oxygen support or may have to lie down and is expected not to be able to sit for an extra hour commuting to the hospital, then state so beforehand.
Do not expect the hospital or the medical travel assistance guys in India to have the ambulance arranged for pick up from the airport if you haven’t asked them to. The proactive ones, however, will always put forth this question beforehand when there is a need to.
Even in ambulance, there is a variety. There is a normal cramped up tempo traveler with a stature and then there is an ICU van with all the necessary support for critical care. So it has to be always mentioned to them which one will be required unless they assume stuff by themselves. Please remember, it is easy for people in India to overlook things and not to take them seriously until and unless you emphasize on the same fact or remind them of the same stuff repeatedly. You literally need to make them believe how critical it is for you to have these set of arrangements.
It is always recommended to stay in touch with people you have been communication with since Day 1 about all the arrangements and the medical treatment services. Because as soon as you land, you will be welcomed by a swarm of people, making it hard for you to know where to go and who to look for. Therefore, be sure that you have the contact coordinates of the person who is coming to pick you up before you board. This information is almost always shared by the hospitals and medical tourism facilitators a day before your departure from the home country.
This was just a small introduction that I would like to end here even though there is a lot more to brief about. I will take up different aspects related to medical travel to India in the future posts and it will cover almost everything from what to expect out of standard accommodations to hospital charges and currency planning and exchange to challenges with communication, hygiene, and feedback mechanism.