Indian doctors come back to medical tourism hub
By Rachel O'Brien ,AFP
June 14, 2014, 12:01 am TWN
CHENNAI, India -- One of the multitude of Indian emigrant doctors, Paul Ramesh moved to Britain in the 1990s, keen to get the best surgical training and earn a generous pay packet.
Today he is still treating Westerners — but in hospital beds back in Chennai, his south Indian hometown in Tamil Nadu state.
"When I came back it was quite exceptional to return. Now it's the rule," the 46-year-old told AFP at the city's Apollo hospital, soon after performing a heart transplant on a woman from the United States.
In Chennai, known as India's healthcare capital, medical workers describe a "reverse brain drain" as homegrown doctors return from the U.S. and Europe — at the same time as the city develops as a top budget destination for medical tourists.
While the number of Indian doctors abroad remains substantial, Apollo staff say their national hospital chain now gets 300 applications annually from those working in Britain alone, encouraged by improved living standards and better medical technology at home.
Traditionally drawn to the West to boost their expertise and earnings, doctors also cited tightening salaries under Britain's National Health Service and increasingly tough U.S. healthcare regulations as factors luring them back.
"The trend is reversing," said M. Balasubramanian, president of the Indian Medical Association in Tamil Nadu.
"More corporate hospitals are coming up, especially in Chennai. Now (doctors) have an opportunity to use their expertise in their own place ... and pull the patients from abroad also," he said.
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Inside the Apollo, with a lobby bustling more like a marketplace than a typical hospital, K.P. Kosygan has just carried out a double knee replacement on an elderly Kenyan patient.
The consultant orthopedic surgeon came back from Britain in 2011 and said there was "a regular stream of doctors coming back."
"Certainly when I left India there were not many joint replacement centers or surgeons in India who could train us," he said.
Now doctors want to "share our experience we have gained across the globe," he said — adding that many were also pulled back to look after aging parents, in a country where family ties are paramount.
As well as treating Indians, Kosygan said he now treats patients "from almost every corner of the world" who are drawn by the cheap costs.
Patients Beyond Borders, a U.S. medical travel resource, says the cost of certain Indian medical procedures can be up to 90 percent lower than in the United States, making it one of the cheapest places for treatment.
While most patients come to India from the Middle East, Africa and other parts of Asia, interest from America is growing, said Patients Beyond Borders CEO Josef Woodman.