Along with Delhi, Mumbai and other big cities in India, Hyderabad has emerged as a major healthcare hub for foreigners, attracting thousands of patients every year.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted the flow of foreign patients, Continental Hospital CEO Riyaj Khan said as many as 3 lakh patients used to visit the city for treatment during a normal year.
“We used to get a good number of patients for all kinds of treatment like oncology, orthopedics, cardiology, spine surgery and others. Patients used to come from West Africa and Middle Eastern countries like Yemen, Oman, some parts of Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh,” said Khan.
According to the doctor who is managing the 750-bedded JCI accredited hospital located in Hyderabad’s financial district, there are myriad reasons for the city of pearls to emerge as a major destination for foreign clientele.
Quality of service, affordability, local connections, direct flights, culture, cuisine and ease of getting services are some of them.
“If you see India for medical value travel, Indian healthcare is offering quality treatment at affordable cost. If you take any European country or US, we are doing treatment at one-tenth of the cost incurred in those countries for the same quality procedures,” he noted.
Cost of healthcare in India is still lesser when compared to Singapore or Thailand, proving to be one of the key reasons for this popularity.
When Hyderabad is pitted against other cities within India, Khan said the IT city offers healthcare at 30 per cent to 35 per cent lesser cost compared to Delhi or Mumbai.
“Once they land in Hyderabad, hospitals are picking them up from the airport and also dropping them back at the airport, offering the complete range of services. That is the reason people are coming to India,” he said.
Besides the cost factor, Khan said the ease of arriving in Hyderabad, finding hospitals, local cuisine and culture are also major pull factors.
According to the senior doctor, patients arriving from the African and Middle Eastern countries also find the Islamic culture of the Telangana capital to be similar to theirs, with a few similarities in the cuisine and the offering of a safe metropolis.
In addition to these commonalities, finding a place to stay and easy commute options also bode well for the foreign patients, including some people in the local hotels being able to speak Arabic.
In the case of Bangladeshi patients, the Continental Hospital’s CEO noted that there are several Bengali speakers in the city.
Similarly, multiple educational institutions and universities such as the University of Hyderabad, Osmania University, EFLU and others host a good number of foreign students from these countries, all of whom spread the word about the city’s medical infrastructure.
“These students are playing a key role in attracting their family members, friends, acquaintances and people known to them to the city,” he highlighted.
These are some of the main reasons for foreign patients to opt Hyderabad and also other cities in India for healthcare.
A few patients from Eastern Europe are also being directed towards India though third party insurance companies.
Though Hyderabad offers medical treatment at lesser cost than Delhi or Mumbai, Khan highlighted that Delhi happens to cater to the highest number of foreign patients, followed by Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and other cities.
Direct air connectivity and other convenient factors are a major draw for patients to Delhi, including from Central Asia.
“One more reason why patients come to Hyderabad is because of the ease of direct flights from those countries to the city,” he said.
The tech city is also dotted with several flagship hospitals of many famous hospital chains such as Apollo Hospitals, Yashoda Hospitals, Care Hosptials, AIG Hospital, Global, KIMS, Kamineni, Medicover and others, all of which offer services to many foreign patients.
Baghya Raju Koppu, a visiting paediatrics consultant at Continental and Apollo hospitals and the managing director of Amrutha Children’s Hospital in Shankerpally near the city, said he always found it easy to treat foreign patients as they were very cooperative and respectful towards the doctors.
“However, they prefer privacy and expect people such as the housekeeping staff and others to knock the door before entering the room which is generally not bothered by many of us,” said Baghya Raju.
He said some African patients from places like Somalia need an interpreter as all of them do not understand English, prompting the hospitals to hire a translator’s service for those cases.
Incidentally, translators are also Africans such as some of the students who came to study in Hyderabad and live in places such as Tolichowki and other areas.
Many hospitals in the city which regularly treat foreign patients hire these translators’ services whenever needed.
“We speak in English to treat Europeans, Americans and Britons. Patients from several other countries also speak English,” said Baghya Raju, who also treated some Greek patients in the city.
He observed that many expatriates from the US, the UK and other countries living in the city and working in the IT companies come for treatment, including teachers working in the international schools.
Raju’s former boss and head of the paediatrics department at Continental, Anjul Dayal, also served as the paediatrician for the American Consulate in Hyderabad.
However, he said all these were good old pre-pandemic days and wished for normalcy to return and the Covid disruption to end.