Saturday, September 19, 2009

Medical Tourism

I liked ''Foreign Body'' by Robin Cook for 2 reasons - one, it invoked my interest about Medical Tourism and two, the book was set in India.

Medical tourism, in the context of this book, refers to people coming from western countries to developing countries like India, Thailand etc. for treatment mainly because of the weak medicare system in their countries and the out-of-proportion medical inflation causing treatment expenses to sky rocket. While these patients save a few bucks, the private hospitals in India make a lot since treating these patients pay them at least twice as much as the localites. In general, it can be anyone traveling to any country solely for the purpose of medical care. A German going to India for an ayurvedic back massage would also fall in this category, for example. Apparently, Medical tourism is very close to and is expected to even overtake IT by 2010, in bringing foreign exchange into India. A google search brings up many more interesting articles on this subject and thanks to Robin Cook, I was hooked for a couple of days.

The book was set in New Delhi and although I have not been there in 11 years, I still have a lot of memories from visiting Delhi almost every year when I was in school. Added to that is the perspective I got about Delhi from a foreigner. There are so many things that we take for granted, things that totally catch a foreigner by surprise and although I have heard many such stories by now, there is always something new. The one story that always cracks me up is of someone boarding an autorickshaw in India for the first time and in all cases, it inevitably ends with ''I was hanging on to dear life'' :D ! The book dealt with the contrast between the opulence of 5 star hotels and the destitution of slums, the conflict between religious superstitions and technological advancements subtly without losing focus.

In spite of all this, what makes the book less gripping is the fact that the book begins with the plot and ends with the well-expected confirmation instead of the usual Robin Cook style of beginning with a medical mystery which on unraveling reveals a dark plot. It is a series of unexpected deaths of American tourists that on investigation leads to a group funded by a private hospital in the US to sabotage the medical tourism concept since it takes away billions of dollars from the American medical system. As always, there were a rigmarole of medical terms, none of which I knew or had even heard of; there was a time I used to look them up but somewhere along the line I gave up and forensic pathology is not really an inviting topic !

The book is a decent read if you are interested in this subject, but is in no way his best work.
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