Sunday, November 29, 2009

Medical Tourism in India

Recently I had been to the Indian Consulate in San Francisco to get some work done. I thought my work would be done in about an hour’s time but ended up waiting there for close to 2 and 1/2 hours. During those 2 and 1/2 hours, I was seated for close to 90 minutes and was standing in the line for rest of the period. Anyway, the point is not how long it took me to get my work done there but what did I learn new during that time period.

I reached the Consulate at around 9.30am and was immediately given a number. I was asked to be seated and wait for my number to be called. There were about 20 numbers ahead of me hence I was mentally getting ready to wait for quiet some time. Initially, I was just watching the TV that had an Indian news channel on it. As time went by, I was getting bored of the TV and was looking around some of the magnificent pictures of Indian tourist locations that adored the walls of the consulate. Of course, I cannot keep staring at those pictures for a long time no matter how exotic those locations may look. So eventually my eyes landed on a magazine that was sitting on a shelf in one corner of the room. I reached out to it and the magazine’s name was “India Perspectives” which gets published, I believe every quarter, by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

I started browsing thru the magazine and went thru its table of contents just to get an idea of what articles I can expect inside. Few of them were interesting but one stood out with it’s attractive title that read “East or West, India is the Best”. So I decided to turn to the page number listed and find out what the article is about.

The starting paragraph was talking about an individual who had come from the USA to India to get medical treatment and also had a little vacation time at the end of the treatment. It also had a few photos of foreigners standing next to Indian doctors and nurses. As I read thru the first couple of paragraphs I came across this terminology that said “Medical Tourism”. I said to myself, “Wait a minute, that sounds interesting” and decided to read thru the full article. At the end of my reading I was “Wowed” by this new terminology. Then and there I decided that this is a good topic for me to blog about. That’s how this posting got a seed in my mind. After that day I started to do a little bit of research around this topic and learn more about “Medical Tourism”, in general, with little bit more focus on India, before I blog about it.

So here I am blogging about “Medical Tourism in India” based on the independent research that I had done. Please note that this by no means is any kind of medical advice or recommendation. These are, in simple, what are “My Thoughts” about medical tourism with some statistics pertaining to medical tourism in India.

What is Medical Tourism?

In simple English, combining medical treatment with vacation is referred to as “Medical Tourism”. It is not just patients traveling internationally for treatment but also the other way around where healthcare providers travel internationally to deliver healthcare. There is no rocket science to it. But most often patients traveling internationally for medical treatment is referred to as medical tourism. It does not matter whether the individual is traveling for elective procedures or complex surgeries or psychiatric treatment. As long as they travel for medical treatment and plan to have a vacation along side then we are talking about medical tourism.

Why India for Medical Tourism?

Patients’ traveling for medical treatment has been in existence for quiet some time but has been the privilege of a select few, primarily due to travel constraints. In today’s modern world, with the ease and affordability of international travel coupled with improved standards of quality health care in many countries, medical tourism is a booming industry of its own.

More and more people, from developed countries, realize that medical treatments in there country is either way too expensive or has way too much of waiting time even though it might be an urgent treatment for them but not so in there government’s or insurance companies eyes. Sad but true that this situation does exist. When one can get the same level of treatment that they would get at home but for a far lesser amount and much quicker why would they not opt for it. As a matter of fact, it has been estimated that surgeries done in countries like India or Thailand could cost just one-tenth of what it could cost in USA or Eastern European countries and in some cases even lesser than that. As a result of this people started looking around as to where they could get high quality medical treatment that is affordable and accessible. BANG, they see lot of options across the globe in countries like India, Thailand, South Africa, Philippines etc.,

With respect to India, the advantages that medical tourists get include
  • Superior yet low-cost personalized medical care
  • World class medical equipments
  • Zero waiting period
  • Less likely to face language barrier as English is widely spoken across the length and breadth of the country

India ranks second in the world in medical tourism next to Thailand which primarily focuses on cosmetic surgery as opposed to what Indian medical tourism focuses on. The most popular treatments sought in India by medical tourists are bone-marrow transplant, cardiac bypass surgery, eye surgery and orthopedic surgery. India is known in particular for heart surgery, hip resurfacing and other areas of advanced medicine. It is estimated that India’s medical tourism field has the potential to be a $2.5 billion business by the end of 2012.

Some of the key hospitals in India that offer world-class healthcare treatment include
  • Apollo Hospital 
  • Wockhardt Hospital
  • Fortis and Max Healthcare

Below are a few statistics comparing the cost of some of the surgeries between India and USA
Cost in India (USD)
Cost in USA (USD)
Heart valve replacement
Knee replacement
Gastric Bypass
Metal-free dental bridge
Lasik eye surgery

For more information on medical tourism in India you can visit (I am not affiliated to this site. I just came across this site and found it informatve.)

In the US, it is estimated that about 750,000 Americans went abroad for health care in 2007, and about a million and a half sought health care outside the US in 2008. If this is the case, in the USA, as a result of healthcare insurance companies making healthcare prices sky-rocket by the year, consider the case in Canada where healthcare is totally government run. In Canada, it is estimated that about 783,000 Canadians spent time on medical waiting lists in 2005, waiting an average of 9.4 weeks. On top of it, Canada has set waiting-time benchmarks, e. g. 26 weeks for a hip replacement and 16 weeks for cataract surgery, for non-urgent medical procedures.

With all the talks going on about healthcare reforms in the USA, does it not sound that if US legislators decide not to make any change in the existing healthcare system then eventually US health care insurance companies are bound to lose millions and billions of dollars as a result of the boom in medical tourism. Hhhmmm… hope the concerned parties understand and bring about a change and stop the sky rocketing healthcare costs in the USA.

My Thoughts – End of the day, we all need to have a healthcare system that is affordable and accessible. If for an individual, in a developed nation, such an healthcare system is either not affordable or not accessible (due to waiting period) then the other choice seems to go to developing countries and get treated for les than one-tenth the price and spend a few more dollars in vacation and return back as a healthy and rejuvenated individual with more dollars in the pocket.

Once again, this is just what I came to know about medical tourism, in general, with a little bit more focus on Indian medical tourism. Please treat this as just information that I came to know and wish to pass on. So if you or anyone you know is seeking affordable and accessible medical treatment at a much lesser price then you can refer to them about medical tourism, in general, and may be if the treatment they seek for is something that Indian medical tourism is specializing in then they can think about visiting India for the same.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Funny and Stupid laws in the US

Below is a compilation of Funny and Stupid Laws from different US states and I have decided to just highlight 1 law/state. This is just a compilation based on what I thought as Funny and Stupid amongst all of that particular state’s laws. You would be surprised by reading this as some just do not make sense at all and others have no logical reasoning to them leave alone how these laws would be enforced. Anyways, here you go…
Alabama - You may not have an ice cream cone in your back pocket at any time.
Alaska - Waking a sleeping bear for the purpose of taking a photograph is prohibited.
Arizona - Any misdemeanor committed while wearing a red mask is considered a felony.
Arkansas - Flirtation between men and women on the streets of Little Rock may result in a 30-day jail term
California - It is illegal to set a mousetrap without a hunting license.
Colorado - No liquor may be sold on Sundays or election days.
Connecticut - It is illegal to dispose of used razor blades.
Delaware - It is illegal to fly over any body of water, unless one is carrying sufficient supplies of food and drink.
Florida - You may not fart in a public place after 6 P.M. on Thursdays.
Georgia - No one may carry an ice cream cone in their back pocket if it is Sunday.
Hawaii - Coins are not allowed to be placed in one's ears.
Idaho - Illegal for a man to give his sweetheart a box of candy weighing less than fifty pounds.
Illinois - You may be arrested for vagrancy if you do not have at least one dollar bill on your person.
Indiana - You are not allowed to carry a cocktail from the bar to a table. The waiter or waitress has to do it.
Iowa - State law forbids any establishment from charging admission to see a one-armed piano player
Kansas - If two trains meet on the same track, neither shall proceed until the other has passed.
Kentucky - One may not dye a duckling blue and offer it for sale unless more than six are for sale at once.
Louisiana - Biting someone with your natural teeth is "simple assault," while biting someone with your false teeth is "aggravated assault."
Maine - You may not step out of a plane in flight.
Maryland - Thistles may not grow in one's yard.
Massachusetts - Snoring is prohibited unless all bedroom windows are closed and securely locked.
Michigan - A state law stipulates that a woman's hair legally belongs to her husband.
Minnesota - A person may not cross state lines with a duck atop his head.
Mississippi - Vagrancy is punishable by either 30 days in prison or a $250 fine.
Missouri - It is not illegal to speed.
Montana - It is illegal to have a sheep in the cab of your truck without a chaperone.
Nebraska - If a child burps during church, his parent may be arrested.
Nevada - It is illegal to drive a camel on the highway.
New Hampshire - You may not tap your feet, nod your head, or in any way keep time to the music
in a tavern, restaurant, or cafe.

New Jersey - It is illegal to wear a bullet-proof vest while committing a murder.
New Mexico - State officials ordered 400 words of "sexually explicit material" to be cut from Romeo and Juliet.
New York - While riding in an elevator, one must talk to no one, and fold his hands while looking toward the door.
North Carolina - If a man and a woman who aren't married go to a hotel/motel and register themselves as married then, according to state law, they are legally married.
North Dakota - It is illegal to lie down and fall asleep with your shoes on.
Ohio - It is illegal to fish for whales on Sunday.
Oklahoma - It is against the law to read a comic book while operating a motor vehicle.
Oregon - One may not bathe without wearing "suitable clothing," i.e., that which covers one's body from neck to knee.
Pennsylvania - It is illegal to sleep on top of a refrigerator outdoors.
Rhode Island - Riding a horse over any public highway for the purpose of racing, or testing the speed of the horse is illegal.
South Carolina - It is a capital offense to inadvertently kill someone while attempting suicide.
South Dakota - It is illegal to lie down and fall asleep in a cheese factory.
Tennessee - Driving is not to be done while asleep.
Texas - It is illegal for one to shoot a buffalo from the second story of a hotel.
Utah - It is illegal to detonate any nuclear weapon. You can have them, but you just can't detonate them.
Vermont - Women must obtain written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth.
Virginia - It is illegal to tickle women.
Washington - A law to reduce crime states: "It is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at the city limits and telephone the chief of police as he is entering the town."
West Virginia - It is illegal to snooze on a train.
Wisconsin - It is illegal to kiss on a train.
Wyoming - You may not take a picture of a rabbit from January to April without an official permit.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Women in a man's life...!!!

Just wanted to express "My Thoughts" about women in a man's life...










My Thoughts - Respect Her for what she is and who she is. All she expects back from you is your unstinting support, your sensitivities and most importantly - your understanding, or love, if you may call it.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Why prescription drugs are so expensive in the US?

About a month back I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on the above topic. To be frank I was surprised to hear some of the facts and hence decided to share my notes from the seminar and also talk a little bit about “My Thoughts” on the current scenario in US healthcare.
Diving right away into the topic of expensive prescriptions, I am sure anyone who has been exposed to US healthcare system would certainly have raised this question at least once apart from the other issues that plague the US healthcare system. Personally, I feel that there is nothing like a cheap prescription drug in US healthcare system. Always a prescription drug is expensive than its generic counterpart. I just like most others was always confused about this logic until I attended this seminar. My aim in this blog is to make sure that you also understand the rationale and logistics that go into the pricing of prescription drugs as opposed to generic drugs.
What factors affect a drug’s cost?
Before I jump into the specifics of the factor’s that affect a drug’s cost below are some of the generic reasons why medication costs in US, in general, is on the rise.
1. Almost 70% of one’s medication expenses occur in our senior years. With the rise in senior’s population, from the baby boom days, there is an increased use of medications by the senior citizens community.
2. Unfortunately, many commonly used drugs are newer and are expensive than the older ones. We will talk more about it in detail.
Below are the primary influencing factor’s that affect a drug’s cost.
1. Research & Development cost (R&D)
2. Drug Approval process
3. Marketing & Advertising cost
4. Administration cost
Research & Development – I am sure that most of us think that all the pharmaceutical companies spend hell a lot of money on R&D as they do not have much government help and that the R&D cost constitutes a great portion of their expense. In reality, much of the drug discovery research happens in academic laboratories like those of medical schools and teaching hospitals which are funded by NIH grants and tax payers like you and me. All that the pharmaceutical companies do is, have an eye on the drug discovery work that is going on in these institutions and find out which one could be the next “BIG” drug that could essentially mean a multi-million dollar, if not billion doallrs, business for them. When the research in these institutions reach a point from where these drug companies can take over and patent it they simply pay the academic institution a flat rate which is usually a fraction of what their estimated profit would be eventually and start the dug approval and manufacturing process. So next time when any pharmaceutical company claims that they had spent hell a lot of money in R&D you could be 99% sure that it is a lie and just ask them from which institution did they actually purchase the formula for the drug. In fact it is believed that drug companies assign only about 20% of their annual budget towards R&D.
That’s one down.
Drug Approval– This is probably the second biggest contributor for the drug’s expensive pricing. Drug Approval process can be further divided into
            a. Clinical Trials
            b. FDA Drug Approval
            c. Drug Patent
Clinical Trials – Since we are talking about drugs that could potentially save human lives it obviously makes sense to have them go thru different level of testing before releasing it to general public. Hence, it is not a surprise that FDA mandates 1 non-human trial 4 phases of human trials to test a drug’s safety and effectiveness before certifying them as “FDA Approved”. I understand that ensuring the safety of the drug should be FDA’s primary concern and I have no qualms about these trials. The different levels of trials are as below.
Non-Human Testing (pre-clinical)
Preclinical studies first done in vitro (test-tube) and in vivo
(animal) experiments.

Human Testing (Clinical)
Phase 0 – exploratory microdosing
Phase I, II, III – Human trials ranging in size
Phase IV – Post Marketing Trials
Just to further emphasize how difficult it is pass thru these trials below are some statistics.
·         1 in 1000 candidates make it through preclinical trials
·         Of that, 1 in 5000 candidates make it to clinical trials
·         Very expensive and time consuming process and
·         The entire process can take from 6 to 12 years
As mentioned above the clinical trial process is very much time consuming, expensive and can be very elaborative which I agree should be given the fact that human life is at stake here.

FDA Drug Approval – Once the trials are completed the data is submitted to FDA which then begins the actual drug approval process. This is kind of cat and mouse game where drug companies claim that FDA is slow in approving their drugs while FDA claims that they do not have enough staff to actually expedite the process. FYI, it seems that the drug approval process usually took about 1 – 2 years. Drug companies not being able to release their drugs to the market and reap the profits until they are approved raised their concerns in the congress, with the help of lobbyists, resulting in a law being passed in 1992 called as “Prescription Drug User Fee Act” ( It allowed drug companies to pay FDA to staff personnel to work exclusively on the approval process of their drugs and there by expedite the approval process and be able to market the same earlier. How does this sound? Legal bribing or Bribe Panel!!! Well, that’s the way it is.
As a result of these rushed FDA approvals, in other words greed from pharmaceutical companies to see the dollars roll in earlier, more and more drug recalls have happened in the past decade. Example – Vioxx, Baycol & Rezulin. Also it has been figured out that some of these medications really do not show much of a long-term benefit in terms improving quality of life or reducing the mortality rates. So why still encourage “Legal Bribing”? Correct? Raise your voice.
Drug Patent – Getting a drug patented essentially gives the pharmaceutical company exclusive rights to manufacture and market the drug. This basically boils down to the fact that when a company has a patent on a drug they pretty much make a hell a lot of money. This is the reason why drug companies try to maximize their profits when they have patent rights. As a common man, you might raise the question “If I have a patent on a drug then don’t I have exclusive rights to manufacture and market that drug forever?”. The answer is “No”. In other words, how patents on drugs works is as follows…
When a company is issued a patent on a drug they hold the exclusive rights for a period of 20 years and not for ever. At the end of 20 years, anybody can start to manufacture and market the drug as long as it matches exactly in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance, and intended use as the original one. Also, the clock starts ticking on the patent from the moment the drug company approaches the FDA and starts the clinical trials. So now you get why the drug companies want to rush thru clinical trials and FDA approval process ASAP. Obviously, the earlier they are able to market the drug the more profit they get out of it during exclusive patent period.
That’s two down.
Marketing expenses– Contrary to the statement by drug companies that R&D is the major driving factor for the high cost of prescription medications the truth is that marketing and distribution cost forms about 35% of a drug company’s annual budget and is the #1 contributor to rising prescription drug prices. That is about 2 times R&D budget. Marketing Cost can be further sub-divided into

Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Marketing - Today if you are watching TV or listening to radio you can be sure to see or hear a minimum of 2 drug ads every hour. This was not the scenario before 1997 when there were hardly any drug ads. In 1997 FDA relaxed the conditions for drug ads that basically resulted in a huge spike on marketing costs by the drug companies. Pharma companies also indicate that as a result of DTC marketing their sales have also spiked. They also claim that DTC marketing is the best way to get the patient involved in the diagnosis process as a result of which the doctor-patient rapport building is encouraged.
So what kind of drugs primarily go for DTC marketing?
Mainly the kind of drugs that try to imitate the mainstream patented drugs by slightly changing the formula and claiming that they do wonders. These are called as isomer entities of mainstream drugs. But keep in mind that these are just copy cat drugs made by altering the formula of a mainstream drug slightly but still claim as a prescription drug and end up being expensive. Most of such drugs are not really that effective. In reality, there might be a better effective and similar kind of drugs in the market that are far less cheaper than these isomers but they need to be pushed to the consumers and hence incur a lot of marketing cost.
Sales pitches and Free samples – It is very common for drug companies to do sales pitches and provide free samples and coupons to doctors and hospitals. These could be in the form of pens, food, trips, concert tickets or even just free samples of the drug and asking the doctor to provide the same to the patients and thereby get them used to the drug which they would eventually have to buy.
Consultation fees for educational events – These are the kind of seminars that drug companies conduct and provide the doctors with fees for attending and speaking in these seminars. Bear in mind that doctors need not necessarily do these things for the drug companies but the expectation back from the drug company is that the doctor would prescribe the company’s drugs to his/her patients.
That’s three down.
Administration expenses – This basically constitutes the salaries, bonuses, accounting and legal fees that the drug company ends up paying it employees and legal firms. Do you know that year after year drug companies have been paying millions of dollars to its executives in the form of bonuses and claim that as part of their expenses and top it by charging us more and more for the drugs so that the executives get hefty paychecks. So now you see that it is not just the financial institutions and banks that hand over hefty paychecks and bonuses to their employees but so do the drug companies. The only difference is that the drug companies do it in a smart way by taking more money from us thereby eliminating any risk from their side.
You might be wondering what constitutes “Legal Fees”. As I had said earlier patents are valid for only 20 years and after that the company loses its exclusive patent rights on a drug. But at the end of 20 years when another drug company starts manufacturing a generic version of the original drug the patented company can file law suits claiming that the new drug is not an exact match of theirs and be able to retain its exclusive market rights. Lot of drug companies use this way to make more profits out of patented drugs and they spend quiet a lot of dollars in the form of legal fees so as to ensure that they are able to reap more profits during this exclusive extended patent period.
That’s four down from the factors that directly affect the drug costs.

Pharmaceutical Industry mixing with Politics
Now let us look into how Pharmaceutical industry and US politics are inter-related and as to why politicians do not react much to raising healthcare costs, in general.
As a common man, I was surprised to learn that annually drug companies budget around $60 million for political advertising and in DC at any given time there would be around 300 paid lobbyists trying to influence the congress to make sure that US drug companies make as much profit as possible. Some examples of how the industry has mixed with politics is as follows,
·         Lobbyists persuaded congress to pass a law stating that medications need to be bought in the US for one to claim Medicare part D coverage benefit.
·         Politicians even went to the extent of claiming that canadian prescription drugs are “Unsafe”.
·         FDA, NIH and CMS have significant number of board members with financial ties to the pharma industry
With so much of politics mixing with the industry I believe it is obvious why US politicians are turning a blind eye to the rising drug prices.
Finally, here are “My Thoughts” on the system as of today. Just because drug companies spend hell a lot of money in advertising and salaries it does not justify the high pricing of the drugs. In essence, we are paying them so that they can spend more and put that burden back on us without actually passing down the profits to consumers like you and me. With all the talks going about health care reform and the different players involved in it, take it from me today that “Nothing is going to change”. There might be so many debates and talk shows surrounding this topic but I am pretty sure that “Nothing is going to change”. I sincerely hope that I would be proved wrong on this but unfortunately I am not optimistic about that. One example of that is the recent exclusion of “Public Option” from the healthcare bill that is to be presented in the senate.
End of the day, people, it is all up to us to be careful to protect our interests. We can do so by getting ourselves involved in our healthcare. How we can do so?
·        Always ask your doctor for the prescription drug information and also ask if there is a generic alternative that works as well as the prescription one.
·         Do not trust the DTC ads. Most of them are usually not as effective as the original drugs. Effective drugs will automatically be sold and do not need to pushed to consumers.
·         Get yourself involved in your community and check the financial ties of your local representative to the pharmaceutical industry.

Let me know what are “Your Thoughts” about rising drug prices.


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