Sonia Gandhi's Surgery Abroad Points to Medical Tourism Trend: Quality over Price

Article excerpt

Although India is touted as a rising global medical destination for its relatively cheap care, most long-distance medical travel is driven by a desire for higher quality, not lower prices.

India's ruling party said its leader, Sonia Gandhi, underwent surgery abroad yesterday and is recuperating in intensive care.

The country is watching developments closely. Ms. Gandhi wields tremendous power behind the scenes of her hand-picked prime minister, Manmohan Singh. During her hospitalization she has delegated party business to a committee of four that includes her son Rahul Gandhi, a descendent of three Indian prime ministers.

Few details have leaked. Her ailment remains unknown. Media reports here say she went to the United States for treatment. Among the mysteries being parsed by the press: Why did she travel abroad for care when India is itself a global medical destination?

Indeed, India has been touted as a major player in the emerging medical tourism field, with stories of budget-minded Americans traveling to India for super cheap hip replacements. But despite the hype, Gandhi's reverse journey may still be more representative of what's actually happening - medical travel for higher quality, not lower price.

"Most [medical travelers] seek the world's most advanced technology, better quality, or quicker access to medical care," reads a 2008 report from The McKinsey Quarterly.

The report found that 40 percent of medical travelers were seeking the world's top technologies, mostly by going to the United States. Only 13 percent were looking for lower-cost care.

Americans, meanwhile, do not appear to be avid medical tourists yet. A survey of 45 medical travel firms turned up a total of only 13,500 American bookings since the firms opened for business, according to the May edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM). …