Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chennai - Healthcare Capital of India?

I do not have any data. This is based on my personal observation over the last 4 months - during which time I visited Ramachandra Medical College Hospital, Apollo Hospitals, MV Diabetes Centre and Shankara Nethralaya in Chennai.

In each of these hospitals, I noticed a huge crowd, but what was interesting was the presence of patients who spoke Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali and a few other assorted North Indian languages. In each Hospital, the staff were equipped to deal with the patients who could only speak in the above languages. The staff were all - or almost all - Tamilians but they spoke perfect Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu and what not besides Tamil and English.

In Apollo where my father underwent a heart bypass surgery, I found NRIs from Malaysia and USA. I also found a few Africans and Caucasians (not sure of their nationalities). In and around Apollo Hospitals in Greams Lane, I found plenty of Malayali and Bengali patients staying in temporary accomodations.

I thought that the facilities for something as complex as heart bypass surgery are perhaps not widespread and perhaps Chennai has over the years built up sufficient number of private hospitals that specialise in heart surgery. But when I went to Shankara Nethralaya, I found several people who seem to have clearly come from North India and from Bengal for something as simple as an eye checkup and proper prescription of glasses. This is difficult for me to understand. Surely there should be enough eye hospitals around the country? It was strange to see the staff at Shankara Nethralaya talking to the patients in perfectly acceptable Bengali and Hindi. Unless the stream of visitors is large, the staff wouldn't have taken the effort to learn these languages.

So what is actually happening? Does anyone know?

As an aside, I wonder if people in North India will take the effort of learning Tamil or Telugu to talk to their customers.


  1. as far as patients from bengal are concerned, it is absolutely true that chennai has become 'the' destination. doctors (and the supporting staff) in bengal have created a pretty bad image of themselves in the public eye. in general, they are seen as indifferent, rude people whose only interest lies in moneymaking. it seems that it is actually less expensive for people to travel south, make temporary staying arrangements, and get a better treatment than go for the local alternative.

  2. Badri,
    We have had cases where some SriLankan Tamil friends living in Europe have approached us to enquire about the charges for major surgeries at Madras medical mission, apollo and other leading hospitals. I think a silent revolution is happening here.
    I had written a related post on this earlier.

  3. Kaps: I have been reading that India is likely to become a very important healthcare spot for the world. But I was curious about the internal tourism - it is not about foreigners coming to India, but about Bengalis coming to Chennai that picked my interest.

    Yes, this is an interesting new revenue stream. But for this to be sustainable, like the IT industry, India must produce thousands of doctors. That would imply that we should start 100s of medical colleges. Immediately.

  4. Badri,

    As far as Bengalis coming to Chennai, especially for eye-related ailments, it is not new at all. Back when I was in IIT (late 1980s), I friend of ours from Calcutta came down to get their you child checked out at Sankara Nethralaya. I had escorted them and was surpised to hear so many bengali voices at that place. Indeed, they all complained not only about the shoddy treatment but also about the indifference of the docs in Cal at that time. Also, the strong feeling was that the docs in Cal were not keeping up with the latest advances. I think since then the gap has only widened.

    The quality of medical service in Chennai is terrific. A few years back my wife had taken our son for an MRI at Apollo and later when we showed the prints to a top neurologist in the US (we live in the US), he commended the quality of the prints. More important, I found the diagnosis by the specialists at Chennai to be far more compelling than what I heard here. Of course, the quality of nurses and other paramedic staff is far superior in chennai.

    Another point. I usually have an aversion to going to docs because of the interminable wait. Even here my experience at Chennai has been very good. They try their best to keep appointments and be punctual.

  5. You bring to attention a very good point. Chennai's has a lot of quality hospitals. The list has been growing over the last decade. I hope Chennai can sustain this and maintain its lead.

  6. Hi Badri
    I am not surprised to see the contents.I believe chennai and tamilnadu hospitls ( and also self finance engineering colleges has attracted people from other states) for so many good reasons.

    "India must produce thousands of doctors. That would imply that we should start 100s of medical colleges. Immediately"

    Also please do add a fact "we need very good health care facility and system in all the towns and for every ten villages"

    How good are we retaining the doctors (Because I see lot of people trying to go to UK or US or UAE).

    with best
    Doctors from US come to INDIA for internships.

  7. Vellore (CMC) and Madurai (Aravind Eye Hospital) also get plenty of visitors from other states, esp. Bengal. My aunt, who has lived in Calcutta for a couple of decades says medical facilities are far better in TN than in Bengal. Aunties ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, but I can't help recalling what Swapan Dasgupta once wrote about what Communist rule has done to them - "The Bengalis have become diaspora in their own land" or something to that effect

  8. Two reasons

    1. Good doctors from Tamil Nadu, where the quality of medical education is far superior than most other colleges as we followed the British system in full till 1997 and even today, while the north indians switched to the (hopeless !!) American System

    2. Dedicated nursing staff from Kerala

  9. Cancer Institute Adyar is another example. My dad has patients from as far as Assam. Many andhra patients used to visit him at home to see some solace as he was one of the few telugu doctors around.

  10. hi
    we have started a new cardiac surgery centre in chenai kaliappa hospital.
    i am a surgeon trained in uk. i have returned and started this venture to make it affordable to our middle class.

  11. what about Bangalore?

    It offers some healthy competition I think, but again I don't know if they go as far as speaking bengali ( Hindi is a little more understable because *we have been told* it is the national language. Does it actually say so in the constitution?)

    Also the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai run by the recently deceased Dr.V must definitely have had patients from all over the country.

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