Despite presence of an international airport, advanced healthcare facilities and hotels, Tiruchi has not become a hub of medical tourism in the post-pandemic economy, say industry players.
“There has to be a concerted effort by the district administration, hospitals and other service providers to highlight Tiruchi’s strengths in the medical sector to treat foreign patients. At present, most of the enquiries are from persons of Indian origin (PIO) in Singapore and Malaysia, or non-resident Indians (NRI) from the Middle East, who usually have some r links to the city,” A. Samuel, Senior General Manager and unit Head, Apollo Speciality Hospital, Tiruchi, told The Hindu.
Several initiatives to create awareness of Tiruchi’s healthcare sector were put on the backburner due to the pandemic, said physicians. “We did try to open some promotional activities related to medical tourism, but they had to be set aside in the COVID-19 lockdown. The time is right to restart the discussions on a policy level for Tiruchi,” said D. Senguttuvan, Executive Director and Head, Department of Paediatrics, Kauvery Hospitals and former chairman of Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Tiruchi zone.
The city would be an ideal choice for patients from countries such as Sri Lanka and Malaysia because it could offer the latest treatments in a cost-effective manner, added Dr. Senguttuvan. “Earlier the focus of medical tourism used to be on Chennai, but now Tier II cities like Tiruchi can also offer care of high standards,” he said.
The sector would grow in Tiruchi only if it adhered to international norms and adopted an ethical approach. Commission for ‘brokers’ to get patients from abroad add to the cost of the procedures, defeating the purpose of medical tourism, said social activists. The sector needs ancillary services such as translators, accommodation and travel agents, to coordinate with the authorities.
“A valid medical visa is a must for foreign patients, to ease their experience both during and after the hospital visit. Besides this, telemedicine is another avenue that could be explored, where minimally invasive surgery can be carried out remotely on patients from Tiruchi,” said T.N. Janakiraman, skull base surgeon and Managing Director, Royal Pearl Hospital and Research Institute.
The pandemic has led to a boom in homestay units and hotels that could be customised to suit medical visitors, said S. Sundaresan, secretary, Tiruchi Hotel Owners Association. “Outstation patients typically look for accommodation close to the hospital, with convenient transport options. We have around three to four big brand hotels and at least 30 mid-range business hotels that could fit the bill for medical tourists. But the concept still needs to be promoted by the authorities,” he said.