Medical Tourism: An Untapped Opportunity for Nepal

Medical tourism -

January 10, 2023

Krishna Pandey, Chairman, Nepal Medical Tourism Organization

Over the last few years, it has become a buzzword, fashionably coined by travel agencies and the mass media to describe the rapidly growing practice of travelling to another country for medical care. As we know today, in terms of medical tourism, leisure aspects are typically associated with such medical travel trips. The best part of this tourism is that the patients get the best medical treatment and a visit to the destination that provides medical and wellness services.

This is popular simply not for the tourism aspect but for medical reasons. The 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 wealthy patients keeping in mind that apart from medical services to support their tourism industry.

Unlike many countries, Nepal doesn’t have the kind of health infrastructure that may attract patients for complex, specialized surgeries such as joint replacement (knee/hip), cardiac surgery, dental surgery, and cosmetic surgeries. However, we can develop similar kinds of facilities in Nepal provided the support and cooperation from both government and private sectors. Before embarking on medical tourism here in Nepal, it’s imperative to develop the infrastructure and manpower required for it. Since Nepal has good climatic conditions, developing a sanitarium for patients who need moderate climatic conditions for rapid recovery is an excellent prospect.

With world-class healthcare professionals, nursing care and treatment cost almost one-sixth of that in developed countries, many Asian countries are witnessing a 30% growth in medical tourism per year. However, Nepal is lagging in capitalizing on this ever-growing tourism segment. First and foremost, proper plans and policies should be in place to help hospitals promote medical tourism through the 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 collaborate with multinational insurance companies to offer healthcare services to patients from abroad 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 patients from abroad if medical tourism has to take off significantly.

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

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

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

Many people worldwide have resorted to alternative medicine, yoga, ayurvedic and spas for their wellbeing. Nepal has a comparative advantage in this kind of wellness, and it might give extra mileage to medical tourism in Nepal. However, the present infrastructure is not enough to cater to upmarket clients. There is an excellent prospect of opening a sanitarium in places like Jiri. As old people need constant medical attention, the sanitarium concept will help boost Nepal tourism.

The concept of medical tourism should be taken along with grey tourism. The visa procedure doesn’t allow a person to stay more than 150 days a year. To encourage medical and grey tourism in Nepal, we should allow old people and patients to stay in Nepal for more extended periods.

Nepal still doesn’t have the medical sophistication required to attract patients from abroad but some core areas can be improved for this purpose. At the moment, it’s inevitable to control the brain drain of professionals. There should be more opportunities for medical professionals here in Nepal for research and room for their professional growth. Tourism Board should be formed to lead a vital role in exploring the areas in which Nepal can excel in medicine and should coordinate with various governmental agencies to create a conducive atmosphere to establish Nepal as a Tourism destination.  Earlier, some activities were done in 2018 and 2019 in Yak Yeti Hotel organized by the Explore Productive Chamber of Commerce and Nepal Tourism Organization to promote Nepal as a new medical tourism destination worldwide. For more information-