Kenya - New rules on sending patients to India

 

A large number of Kenyans travel abroad for medical reasons, such as cancer treatment, transplant surgery, joint replacement and dental surgery.

Although many have the option of seeking treatment within Africa, particularly in Egypt and South Africa, they mostly chose to travel to India simply because the treatment cost is comparatively affordable.

Securing a visa to these African destinations is also a tedious process, unlike India, whose visas are now issued within a week.

Because of the increasing number of patients going there, referrals to India are a booming business in Nairobi. Some health professionals have found a way to make money by referring patients to an Indian hospital in exchange for kickbacks.

The Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations claims that to ensure a stable flow of patients a number of Indian hospitals have established a collection of unscrupulous medical practitioners. It claims that rogue doctors are pocketing up to US$1,000 for every patient they refer abroad, adding a huge financial burden on patients because the kickback is included in medical bills. The organisation threatens to report rogue doctors to the anti-corruption agency.

The Ministry of Health has brought in stringent new regulations, so a doctor can only refer a patient abroad for treatment if there is evidence that hospitals in Kenya lack the capacity to take care of them.

The new measures aim to control and monitor international referrals and protect patients from rogue doctors who misadvise them to seek treatment abroad in exchange for money.

Drawn up with the help of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB), the guidelines also stipulate that patients will only be referred to foreign hospitals if there is evidence that the referral would be the most cost effective option.

But a medical or dental practitioner may refer a patient abroad if the patient has opted for such and is willing to pay for the same without recourse to public funds.

The new rules are also meant to ensure that there are follow-up mechanisms for referred patients, either locally or abroad. KMPDB and the Ministry of Health will scrutinise the type of hospital, treatment and cost a patient (especially one who is using public funds like the National Health Insurance Fund) will get.

The new rules cannot legally stop patients who choose to go to abroad for treatment. Some patients demand to go abroad, having lost faith in local hospitals, and nothing can be done to stop them from leaving.

A problem is that Kenyan doctors and hospitals prices can be higher than what is charged abroad. There is a general belief among Kenyans that healthcare costs are cheaper in India. This is only true to some extent, and very often Kenyans are surprised when they get to an Indian hospital and the full costs are far higher than the basic medical treatment costs they were expecting.

There are agencies and overseas advisory offices for Indian hospitals in Nairobi: some are good but some are close to criminal.

The National Health Insurance Fund does cover some hospital costs for those seeking healthcare abroad, including in India.

Some Indian hospitals seek payment for treatment in advance with a full price. But others offer a vague quote and hit patients with a far larger bill when they have them in a bed in India.

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