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MEDICAL TOURISM : An Untapped Opportunity for Nepal

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MEDICAL TOURISM : An Untapped Opportunity for Nepal

In medical tourism, as we know today, leisure aspects are typically associated with such medical travel trips. The best part of medical tourism is that the patients get the best medical treatment along with visit to destination that provides the medical service.

Over the last few years, medical tourism has become a buzz word, fashionably coined by travel agencies and the mass media to describe the rapidly-growing practice of travelling to another country for medical care.

In medical tourism, as we know today, leisure aspects are typically associated with such medical travel trips. The best part of medical tourism is that the patients get the best medical treatment along with visit to destination that provides the medical service.

Many countries in the world have vied for medical tourism to attract tourists by developing their medical infrastructure and services. Medical tourism is popular simply not for the tourism aspect only but for medical reason also. Medical tourism packages are being sold in many parts of the world including, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey, South Korea and Singapore. And, many countries are trying to lure the rich patients keeping in mind that apart from medical service, it also supports their tourism industry. Unlike many countries, Nepal doesn't have that kind of health infrastructure that may attract patient for complex specialized surgeries such as joint replacement (knee/hip), cardiac surgery, dental surgery, and cosmetic surgeries. However, we can develop similar kind of facilities in Nepal provided the support and cooperation from both government and private sector. Before embarking medical tourism here in Nepal, it's imperative to develop infrastructure and manpower required for it. Since Nepal has good climatic condition, there is a great prospect of developing sanitarium for the patients who need moderate climatic condition for rapid recovery.

With world class healthcare professionals, nursing care and treatment cost almost one-sixth of that in the developed countries, many Asian countries are witnessing 30% growth in medical tourism per year. However, Nepal is lagging behind in capitalising this ever growing segment of tourism. First and foremost, proper plans and policies should be in place to help hospitals promote medical tourism through seamless integration of healthcare delivery with tourism and travel related facilities in the country.

Another important aspect is that hospitals should tie up with facilitating agencies like tour operators and have to take marketing and advertising  services to promote treatment packages for foreign patients to give a fillip to the health tourism sector.

Nepali healthcare institutions should tie-up with multinational insurance companies to offer healthcare services to patients from abroad in order to improve medical tourism. Many experts advocate accreditation of healthcare institutions by a foreign agency, marketing and advertising of healthcare institutes, and the facilities and treatment packages they offer to the patient from abroad if medical tourism has to really take off in a big way.

While talking about infrastructure, special wards for patients from abroad, proper visa facilities and preferential treatment at immigration are other subjects which need to be addressed. Other ways of exploring this sector is through seminars and exhibitions, which helps feature the healthcare industry and the medical sector globally. Efforts have to be made by Nepal Tourism Board and health institutions for its promotion in the international travel marts.

As tourism is seasonal, the other big advantage about the need to improve medical tourism is that it is non-seasonal.

Medical tourism can be improved by creating awareness among the global community about the facilities rendered by Nepal's healthcare institutions. The cost, quality and infrastructure of the Nepali healthcare institution need to be advertised. Experts cite that medical insurance, alternate wellness concepts and Business Process Outsourcing(BPO) in diagnostics are other upcoming businesses which will give a boost to medical tourism in the coming years.

Many people around the world have taken resort to alternative medicine, yoga, ayurvedic and spa for their wellbeing. Nepal has comparative advantage on this kind of wellness, and it might give extra mileage to medical tourism in Nepal. However, the present infrastructure is not enough to cater upmarket clients. There is a great prospect of opening sanitarium in places like Jiri. As old people need constant medical attention, the concept of sanitarium will definitely help boost tourism in Nepal. The concept of medical tourism should be taken along with grey tourism. The present visa procedure doesn't allow a person to stay more than 150 days in a year. To encourage medical and grey tourism in Nepal, we should allow old people and patients to stay in Nepal for longer period.  

Nepal still doesn't have medical sophistication required to attract patients from abroad. But there are some core areas that can be improved for this purpose. At the moment, it's inevitable to control braindrain of medical professionals. There should be more opportunity for medical professionals here in Nepal for research and room for their professional growth. Nepal Tourism Board must take a lead role in exploring the areas that Nepal can excel in the field of medical tourism, and should coordinate with various governmental agencies to create a conducive atmosphere to establish Nepal as a Medical Tourism destination. 

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