Luxury getaways . . . plus surgery

Miranda Kennedy Sep 13, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s a squeeze we’ll all feel at some point. The rising cost of health care in this country. Everything from higher co-pays to surgery. And the bills have some people looking far afield for treatment. Really far afield. Patients are flying overseas for surgeries that cost a fraction of what they do back home. India offers gleaming new hospitals staffed by American-trained doctors and surgeons. And, Miranda Kennedy reports, that’s just part of the package.

MIRANDA KENNEDY: This month, eight Americans are scheduled for stomach stapling surgery here at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital. That complicated procedure is only going to cost them $5,000 in India, compared to at least $20,000 to get it done at home. There’s a simple reason why medical care is so much cheaper here — the cost of labor is that much lower in India.

KENNEDY: So this is a suite room . . . This is the highest level of room?

HOSPITAL STAFF PERSON: This is the highest. There’s a small living room here.

Apollo lures foreign patients with “five-star wellness packages” that are more like vacations than medical treatments. It starts off in a deluxe hospital suite on the top floor of the facility, where the nurses have been trained to pamper foreign patients.

* * * * *

HOTEL WORKER:“Morning madam.

CUSTOMER: . . . morning.

HOTEL WORKER 2:“Hi, welcome to the Crowne Plaza. I’m Shelley. How are you doing?”

After the hospital recovery, the patient is swept off to a nearby luxury hotel. At the Crown Plaza Intercontinental patients are invited to stay in plush, wheelchair-friendly rooms on a special floor with their own lounge and dining area. Shelley Bhasin stage manages the patients’ time in the hotel.

SHELLEY BHASIN: There have been many guests who have stayed with us, they have a particular requirement for the food, where our chef had specially worked out a menu, a diet. And then whenever they’re required to be dropped at the hospital for their regular check-up, we look after all their needs.

India’s medical tourism packages go well beyond the realm of need. The hotel will happily add in a trip to the Taj Mahal or a south Indian beach holiday. And hotels charm recovering patients with all kinds of stress-relieving luxuries: like Jacuzzis filled with rose petals, yoga, and Indian massage.

HOTEL WORKER:“Ahead is the spa rooms, the massage rooms. We have a speciality of Keralite massage, which is shurudhara . . . That’s our Swedish massage room.”

But even if India’s hospitals are five-star, its streets are filthy and congested. Prathap Reddy, Apollo Hospital’s chairman, says that’s actually scared off some of his patients.

PRATHAP REDDY: If he sees all the slums and garbage, you know, he says, “My God, I’m going to give my body to these hospitals, what’s going to happen to me? Because from what I’ve seen, I don’t know if I’ll get infected, and go back with something missing at the end of the treatment.

And there’s another slight problem . . . Apollo Hospital is one of only two hospitals in India that’s made the cut for international accreditation.

In New Delhi, Im Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.

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