The resumption of MVT operations will require several hurdles to be crossed in order for the government to allow treatment of foreign patients in India. This will require exploring possible pathways to facilitate a “restart” of international flights that is rendered keeping in mind medical patients and the ongoing pandemic outbreak
By: Dr. Harish Pillai
Medical value travel has been recognised by the Government of India as a key strategic sector that will earn valuable foreign exchange to the country and has also been classified as a service export initiative by the stakeholders. Over the past few years, numerous interactions and discussions have been held between Governmental Ministries (Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Health, Home, External Affairs and Tourism) and private hospital providers, healthcare facilitators, accreditation agencies such as NABH to arrive at a long-term strategy with the help of FICCI.
While the current situation has led to a complete suspension of services offered by the MVT operating Hospitals, this (as a ripple effect) has also adversely impacted support businesses such as lodging and boarding facilities empanelled by the hospitals, taxi services for international patients, language translation services, home/hotel healthcare delivery services (including physiotherapy services), medical supplies to foreign patients, and more, which largely depend upon patients who come to India using MVT Facilitators’ services.
Due to the disruptions in international travel at the moment arising out of Covid-19, the FICCI MVT task force in collaboration with the Government of India and various stakeholders have evolved and brought out an easy to use set of guidelines and protocols that address key aspects such as:
- As and when international flights resume to India, a clearly defined protocol on the selection of patients who are likely to be fit to travel for further care in India.
- The standard operating protocol for Covid-19 testing using RTPCR in home countries or otherwise.
- The protocol for granting of visa and issuing of tickets.
- SOP for flight travel.
- On arrival at various airports the specific protocols to be followed for screening the passengers who have arrived.
- Transportation from the airport to specified hotels or the hospitals where they would be further quarantined as per the prevailing norms issued by the Government of India or respective state governments.
- The concept of quarantine facilities or isolation wards within hospitals for these MVT patients.
- Protocols required for pre-operative or pre-procedure Covid testing.
- Protocols for intra-operative or intra-procedure safeguard of staff.
- Post-procedure protocols, assessment of further fitness, protocols for discharge from the facility and transportation back to the airport, and further travel to home destination.
- Representation on graded opening of countries for MVT during Covid – A three-step assessment is suggested for selecting the source countries from where foreign patients may be allowed to travel to India for MVT treatment. This analysis includes categorising countries based on priority, low-risk and RT-PCR test availability.
Overcoming several hurdles
The resumption of MVT operations will require several hurdles to be crossed in order for the government to allow treatment of foreign patients in India. This will require exploring possible pathways to facilitate a “restart” of international flights that is rendered keeping in mind medical patients and the ongoing pandemic outbreak. Further, hurdles in terms of the planning of travel, medical patients’ journey, transfer from airport, arrival at guest houses, transfer to hospital for treatment, safe departure post treatment, and other elements, will have to be covered.
So, the entire gamut of activities has been mapped out in a detailed SOP and given to the Government of India to follow through on that. The standard operating procedure for foreign patients, includes five stages:
- Pre-arrival planning
- Arrival in India
- Transfer to guest house/hospital
- Treatment in India
- Safe departure
Sharing of best practices
Another important activity conducted by the FICCI MVT task force is to pro-actively share best practices with the Ministry of Commerce with regards to removing the legal bottlenecks required to propagate telemedicine and second opinion services in destination markets. The changes in approach to treatment and consultation brought about by the ongoing pandemic, will have long-term impacts on the way technology can be used for consults.
Considering, medical value travel related treatments would take a few months to resume, it is important to mainstream telemedicine and utilise the benefits of virtual healthcare for foreign patients looking at India as the country to avail future healthcare treatment.
Further, the concept of having a virtual medical exhibition, which was successfully conducted recently for B2B and B2C formats was well received by all stakeholders. Furthermore, the suggestions for conducting medical mission overseas, export of PPEs and essential drugs are all being taken up in a phased manner.
Covid-19 has transformed the landscape of healthcare delivery capacity and manufacturing in India. It has strengthened the Indian private healthcare system enormously by giving us the requisite experience to handle complex situations, which will fetch us many dividends as the Covid-19 pandemic eases and finally dies off.
The role of FICCI MVT task force
FICCI has constituted an MVT task force that has representation from various industry entities and has made significant progress in lowering entry barriers for medical value travellers to India. The impetus for such activity was due to the encouragement received by the Government of India, primarily from the Ministry of Commerce and from the Service Export Promotion Council of India.
After due benchmarking studies with competitive nations in South East Asia, a lot of reforms have been brought about to ease some of the critical entry barriers such as cost of the visa, dedicated M-visa, visit to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), adequate staffing of Indian mission overseas in key destination markets and also hosting of a prestigious and one of the largest annual healthcare summits called ‘Advantage Healthcare India’, which is one of the major events to bring in a large number of delegates of more than 500 per event spread across 70 countries from South Asia, South East Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and Africa.
These activities over the past few years have progressively raised the profile of the country and have increased the number of medical value travellers reaching our shores.
On the service side, the efforts by the FICCI MVT task force has also raised the bars in terms of service standards by encouraging more hospitals to go for NABH accreditation, also roped in the accrediting body NABH to evolve a new accreditation standard for medical value travel facilitators, who are a vital cog in the ecosystem.
There is also a code of conduct, which has been published and signed off by major providers in the country which gives a minimum assured standard of care. This was one of the biggest grievances expressed by the medical value travellers to India and the ease in the regulation by the different governmental agencies has also helped to create a certain momentum. Five major airports in India have been declared as international gateways with a faster immigration processing time for medical value travellers.
The FICCI MVT task force has also engaged with different state governments to encourage various states to pro-actively initiate state-specific measures to convert their state into specific MVT hotspots. During the annual Advantage Healthcare India Summit, one of the states from India has been considered as a partner state and the summit event is envisaged to move from Delhi to the different state capital in the ensuing time.
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