Bumrungrad International Hospital in the Thai capital, Bangkok is easily the world’s leading hospital for international patients. It has been a beacon for patients across the world for over two decades now. The hospital treated over 1.1 mn patients in 2018 with over half of them being foreigners from 190 countries. The hospital has a reputation for great medical care along with excellent international patient services customized to the needs of their global patients.
Indian hospitals too receive hundreds of thousands of international patients from different parts of the world every year. Max Healthcare, in New Delhi, where I happen to work received over 70000 patients from over 100 countries last year. Yet, we do not have a hospital in the country that can really be called a super-magnet for International patients. For most Indian hospitals, International patients are just a tiny sliver of the patients that they take care of. Unlike, a Bumrungrad Hospital, Indian hospitals are designed to cater to local patients and the international patients that they receive, while important, are rarely an area of great focus.
International patients travelling to India often have needs, which are very different from local patients. For many, visiting a hospital in a far-off country is a big leap of faith and they often rely on the services of healthcare facilitators (HCFs), which are intermediaries representing hospitals in different countries. The HCFs often interact with these patients before they board the flight for their medical destination. The HCFs connect them with local doctors and the hospitals, help them get a medical opinion for their afflictions, advise them and help them make appropriate choices regarding their treatment. They also help arrange tickets, often pick-up patients from the airports and make their arrangements for their stay. While the HCFs need to professionalize and become more organized, the hospitals too need to build a full suite of concierge services for international patients. Since most Indian hospitals consider International patients as just an ”add-on”, the international patient services do not get as much attention as they should.
It is time, we looked at setting up hospitals, which consider mainstreaming international patient services. This would essentially mean that the hospital should fundamentally be designed to cater to the requirements of International patients. The infrastructure would typically include plush International patient lounges, exclusive international patient registration and admission desks staffed with executives with appropriate language skills and a full services concierge desk to assist the patients for any need. that they may have. The hospital will also need signage in multiple languages, medically trained interpreters available 24×7 to assist clinicians when they wish to communicate with their patients and a maybe global choice of cuisine.
The international patient experience as distinct from the medical services being offered by the hospital has to be truly world-class. The foreign patients should be made to feel comfortable and at home right from the moment they step out of the airport. India will be able to draw a significantly larger chunk of International patients if we are able to elevate the international patient experience to the highest possible level. A business case for such a hospital can easily be made. However, apart from capital and investments, this will also require a change in the mindset of the hospital promoters and their key executives. That is perhaps the bigger challenge.
Serving International patients allows the country to earn precious foreign exchange and is considered as export of services. With relatively low costs and world-class medical outcomes, Indian hospitals have tremendous competitive advantage. They must not squander it away with what might today be called as a half-hearted effort.
It is time we built a Bumrungrad Hospital of our own!!!!
The views expressed are personal