Most hospital groups are witnessing patient traffic coming back to hospitals as in the pre-pandemic scenario. When India went through the two waves of the virus, many non-essential surgeries and hospital visits were postponed. Now pent-up demand is witnessing in many treatments, like knee replacement. India's vast population and a growing economy, and factors like rising income levels, lifestyle diseases and awareness make India a strong healthcare market with high growth opportunities.

"If pandemic recedes and becomes endemic, and Omicron is not going to hit worse, we are going to witness the growth trajectory of the past across various specialities. International patients are yet to come back. If we had 10% international patients in pre-pandemic days, that would have come down to 4% now, but that will change once more international flights start coming from various countries", says Dilip Jose.

There are some fundamental changes witnessed after the two Covid-19 waves. One is patients are preferring quality healthcare, and more and more patients are willing to choose treatments in established hospitals, than going to neighbourhood nursing homes. Another is the increase in digital consultations—as both doctors and patients are getting comfortable with the digital consultation options. For Manipal, if digital OPD was less than 1% in pre-pandemic days, it increased up to 20% during the two waves, and now it is about 10%. Similarly, awareness of preventive healthcare and mental health are gaining prominence. Though hospitals had to invest more in physical infrastructure during the pandemic, treatment costs have not gone up. "If consumables or medicine costs rise, we may witness an increase in operating costs, but so far we have not witnessed rising patient costs”, he says.

Despite the pandemic, Manipal has embarked on an expansion spree to tap opportunities eyeing the next 2-3 decades, Jose says. Manipal—which acquired the Columbia Asia hospitals group for ₹1,800 crore in May 2020, and Bangalore-based Vikram Hospitals for ₹350 crore a month later—have integrated both and rebranded as Manipal Hospitals. Now, the Manipal Hospitals Group has become India's second-largest hospital chain—with 7600 beds—and a pan-India presence of 27 hospitals (including ten in Bangalore) with 20,000 people, which includes 4000 doctors. Manipal is now looking to add more hospitals in east India, Hyderabad and Kerala. A greenfield 220 bedded hospital with cancer care facilities will come up in Pune by April, said Dilip Jose.

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