Private Hospitals Lead the Way in Kerala’s Health Sector

Kerala topped the index of the India Human Development Report 2011. The report stated that the state attained this position largely due to the high literacy rates and quality health care services available to its people. A large proportion of the credit for making health care more accessible must go to the initiatives taken by the private health care sector.
The Boom in Private Medical Care: Organised health care in Kerala can be traced back to the missionary hospitals that made in-roads in remote, interior parts of the state. However, the current boom began in the 1980s and has been attributed to rising levels of education, increase in disposable incomes and greater health consciousness among Keralites. An ageing population also led to more and more people seeking quality health care. In addition, government regulations were also considerably eased in order to help the growth of this sector. Organisations like the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) also played a positive role. For example, KSIDC played a leading role in providing support to the private Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi. Today, Lakeshore has emerged as one of the leading players in this segment. It’s a similar story for Ananthapuri Hospital in Trivandrum.
Kerala’s private medical sector has been much more aggressive as compared to the rest of India. Even though statistics are hard to come by, the following chart reveals that by 1995-96, Kerala was way ahead of the Indian average as far as the number of hospitals and beds were concerned.

Hospital Beds

Source : M Uplekar, A George, 1995 & 1996
Yet another highlight is the brisker pace of growth set by the private medical sector as compared to the public health sector. In the year 2000, there were about 70,000 beds in the private sector as against 45,684 in the Government sector. During the year, the number of doctors in the Government sector was less than 6,000, while the private sector employed over 12,000 doctors. There are more than 300 hospital beds per 100,000 population in Kerala, which is probably one of the highest ratios in the developing world. The average density of beds in the private sector is almost twice that in the government sector.
One of the characteristics of the private medical sector in Kerala is that it is comprehensive in nature and there has also been a substantial growth in institutions that cater to traditional medical systems like Ayurveda. There are few surveys done on the private health sector in the state. But a study done by the Kerala government in 1995 reveals that there were 12618 private medical institutions in the state of which 34 percent were allopathic, 39 percent ayurvedic, 25 percent homeopathic and 2.3 percent other medical institutions.
The Benefits of Medical Tourism: The healthy growth of the private sector has provided access to top class medical services to not just the people of Kerala, but to patients across the globe. Kerala is quickly making its mark in the area of medical tourism. The concept of health tourism was pioneered by Ayurveda hospitals, but today it is all pervasive. A CII-McKinsey report indicates that medical tourism industry in Kerala is expected to be worth a staggering $4 billion by 2017. Medical tourists from developed countries of the world like US and Switzerland visit the state’s Ayurveda hospitals. However, patients from West Asia and other developing countries seek treatment in the allopathic hospitals.
The development of private medical care has thus benefited the state in two ways. It has made health care extremely accessible and has also turned out to be a major tourism revenue earner.