Vacation, Adventure And Surgery?

Elective Surgeries By World-Class Doctors At Third-World Prices

India wants to become the world leader in medical tourism, and it might just make it. Alongside the familiar images of the country (teeming, dusty streets, and poverty) you can add gleaming new, private hospitals.

The hospital boom in India was fueled by India's growing middle-class who demanded access to quality health care. Now, the country known for exporting doctors is trying hard to import patients.

The most important player is the Apollo Group, the largest hospital group in India, and the third largest in the world.

Why is it so important to get foreign patients here?

"It makes sense to establish India as sort of a world destination for health care," says Anjali Kapoor Bissell, director of Apollo's International Patient Office.

But why should foreigners come here? Well, it's even cheaper than Thailand for most procedures, with prices about 10 percent what they would be in the United States.

Anne Bell works at the British High Commission in New Delhi. She just had a baby and says she's glad she was here, and not in England: "There's been no pressure to go home after the delivery. We've been welcomed to stay as long as we want. They're looking after the baby. They're looking after me, giving me enough time to get settled and get confident enough to go back home. Often in the UK, you might be out of the hospital within five hours if you've had a normal delivery."

And in the UK, she wouldn't have had a private room and a private bath. Not to mention massages, and yoga, too. And the doctors? Indian doctors are known worldwide, they speak English, and they're often the very same doctors you may have had in Europe or America, where many of them practiced before returning to India.

"Do you find that many Indian doctors are coming back now because of hospitals such as this one?" asks Simon.

"Yes, a large number are coming back," says Bissell. "Because they have something to come back to."

Dr. Praveen Khilnani, a pediatric intensive care specialist, worked at several American Hospitals, including Mass General. Dr. Vikas Kohli is a pediatric cardiologist who worked at hospitals in New York and Miami.

Both need sophisticated equipment to care for their patients, something India didn't have before the birth of private hospitals like Apollo. They both wanted to come back to India despite the fact that medical care costs much less here, partly because doctors make much less.

"How much less do you make here than in the United States?" asks Simon.

"Maybe a tenth or a twentieth of what we were making the U.S.," says Khilnani.

They wanted to come back, they say, because they felt their expertise was needed here in India much more than in America.

"There are probably 1,500 to 2,000 pediatric cardiologists in the U.S. I would be one of them," says Kohli. "In India, there were just four of us. I was very passionate about working for Indian kids."

Since there are so many Indians who require the kind of care that only they can offer, why is there such a strong drive to attract foreign patients?

"Who doesn't mind extra money flowing in?" says Kohli.

Stephanie Sedlmayr didn't want to spend the tens of thousands of dollars it would take to get the hip surgery she needed. And she didn't have insurance, either. So with her daughter by her side, she flew from Vero Beach, Fla., to the Apollo Hospital in Chennai. She'd never been to India before, but she already knew quite a bit about Indian doctors

"My doctor, actually, in Vero Beach, she's an Indian doctor. So, why not go where they come from?" asks Sedlmayr, who says her friends questioned her decision. "Hardly anybody said, 'Oh, great idea.'"

But she didn't just come here to save money; she came for an operation she couldn't get at home. It's called hip resurfacing, and it has changed people's lives.

It hasn't been approved yet by the FDA, but in India, Dr. Vijay Bose has performed over 300 of them. He showed 60 Minutes the difference between a hip resurfacing and hip replacement, which is the standard operation performed in the United States. He says his patients usually recover faster because his procedure is far less radical and doesn't involve cutting the thighbone.

Instead, Bose fits a metal cap over the end, which fits into a metal socket in the hip. The result, he says, is that patients end up with enough mobility to do virtually anything.

"So my patients, you know, play football, basketball, whatever you want. Not a problem," says Bose.

Until the FDA approves it, the only way to have this operation in the United States is by getting into a clinical trial. But be warned: It isn't cheap.

How much does it cost in the States?

"I believe it costs something from $28,000 to $32,000 U.S. dollars," says Bose.

And in India, Sedlmayr says it costs $5,800: "Private nurse after surgery. And, feeling always that they were just totally attentive. If you rang the bell next to your bed, whoop, somebody was there immediately."

Sound too good to be true? Don't forget: It's at least a 20-hour trip, there is malaria in parts of India, patients have complained of intestinal disorders -- and if something goes wrong, you could end up suing for malpractice in an Indian court.

And one could only wish you the best of luck. But Sedlmayr feels she's already had more luck than she had any right to expect. By the time 60 Minutes left India, she was into the tourism part of her treatment, convalescing at a seaside resort an hour's drive from the hospital.

"Is this standard, that when somebody gets surgery at the hospital to come to a resort like this afterwards?" asks Simon.

"Yeah, they suggest it. They recommend it," says Sedlmayr. "[It cost] $140 day for myself and my daughter, including an enormous fabulous breakfast that they serve until 10:30."

"I think a lot of people seeing you sitting here and what's usually called post op, and hearing your tales of what the operation was like, are going to start thinking about India," says Simon.

"Yeah, and combining surgery and paradise," says Sedlmayr.