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Chennai, the medical capital of India

A range of single-specialty and multi-specialty hospitals with cutting edge medical facilities, operated by renowned doctors makes Chennai, ‘the medical capital’. People flock from beyond the Vindhyas and from overseas for specialised treatment here. Apollo Hospitals, which changed the landscape of medical care, and own branded healthcare centres across India, is headquartered in Chennai.

If New Delhi is our political capital and Mumbai the financial capital, Chennai is the healthcare capital of India. A number of factors contribute towards this. Like, the cost of treatment is less here than in comparable metropolises. The quality of service is world class, healthcare is personalised and the doctors ooze empathy and efficiency.
The city has a glorious tradition of medical care. The Government General Hospital at Madras was started in 1664. It continues to be one of the oldest, largest and foremost government hospitals in India. Along with the Madras Medical College, which is 180 years young, it has produced some of the greatest doctors. The Stanley Medical College and the Kilpauk Medical College have rolled out outstanding surgeons of international fame. The Railway Hospital at Perambur earned a reputation for many landmark surgeries performed to treat heart ailments, many with slender resources but with a lot of innovations. It is on these strong foundations set by the government sector that the private sector healthcare in Chennai took its roots.


In the earlier years, Madras was known for its famous ‘nursing homes.’ Some of them like the Pandalai’s and Dr U Mohan Rao’s, the Vijaya and the M K Nursing Home became famous. They started attracting patients even from neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. Very soon, state of the art private hospitals were established. The KJ Hospital on PH Road and the Vijaya Hospital in Vadapalani became well-known as centres of excellence for medical care in south India. The turning point was the setting up of the Apollo Hospitals in the early 1980s. This was the start of the era of corporate hospitals in India. Apollo inspired many others to set up similar ventures: like Fortis, Max, Global… in other parts of the country.
Apollo Hospitals continues to dominate the space and has established its branches all over India. It has attracted investments for its expansion. The Apollo Cancer Hospital at Nandanam and the new state of the art Cancer Hospital in Taramani are other landmark institutions. The main Apollo Hospital is a leader in several specialties including cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, nephrology, etc. It has attracted top NRI doctors from all over the world reversing the brain drain to offer the best of medical care at lower costs compared to the west.
The Madras Medical Mission and Frontier Lifeline Hospital have added strengths to the reputation of Chennai for cardiac care. Frontier Lifeline has set up Special Economic Zone for a Medivillage in North Madras for medical research. Other noteworthy multi-specialty hospitals like Sri Ramachandra, Kauvery, Fortis Malar, Chettinad and Billroth, continue to provide quality care. New multi-specialty hospitals get added in the suburbs: at Chrompet, 100 feet road, Madhavaram and OMR. Such flourish of tertiary care hospitals also abounds in Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchi…


Along with these multi-specialty hospitals, Chennai is also among the first to start single specialty hospitals something, almost unheard in the rest of the country at that time. Notably, in the field of diabetology, the MV Hospital for Diabetes set up in 1971, was the first full-fledged diabetes hospital in India. This parent hospital subsequently led to the proliferation of other diabetes hospitals including the Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Specialties Centre. The latter is today recognised as one of the largest chain of diabetes centres in the world with over 45 branches and 450,000 registered diabetes patients. Dr A Rama chandran’s Hospital and Dr V Seshiah’s Diabetes Hospitals are equally well- known. It is fair to state that nowhere else in India are so many hospitals for diabetology as a specialty and for extensive research and preventive healthcare.


In the field of eye care, Chennai has been dominating, starting with the Government Ophthalmic Hospital, the second oldest ophthalmic hospital in the world. This then paved the way for the establishment of world-class eye hospitals like the Sankara Nethralaya, which was set up in 1978 and became a household name for treatment of eye ailments across India and in the neighbouring countries. Excellence in ophthalmic care, education and research are the core strengths of Sankara Nethralaya. The Agarwal Eye Hospital also became a landmark eye institution, and today it has expanded to all parts of India and notably in Africa. Recently, the world-renowned Aravind Eye Hospital that made eye care affordable by the masses, has started a branch at Chennai. Several other eye hospitals including the Rajan Eye Hospital have made Chennai a preferred destination for treatment of eye diseases.
The Adyar Cancer Institute continues to be one of the leading institutions in India in the field of oncology. The Apollo Cancer Hospital and several other oncology institutions have come up, making this yet another much sought after specialty.
In pediatrics, both the Children’s Hospital as well as the Kanchi Kamakoti Child’s Trust Hospital for children are landmark institutions. In orthopedics, the MIOT has been a leader, along with the M N Orthopedic Hospital and the Bone and Joint Hospital. Geriatric medicine had its origin in Chennai with the setting up of the first department of Geriatrics in this city. Neurology, Neurosurgery, Psychiatry, Venereology, Gastroenterology, Plastic Surgery and Hand Surgery are other specialties for which Chennai is well-known nationally and internationally.


Multi- and super-specialty hospitals across the city bring in an estimated 150 international patients every day. It attracts about 45 per cent of health tourists from abroad arriving in the country and 30 to 40 per cent of domestic health tourists. It is a matter of great pride that the city has reversed what in earlier times was ‘medical tourism’ from India to the West for specialised care to ‘reverse medical tourism’ where the world has turned to India and specifically Chennai, for quality medical care.
Large numbers of patients from eastern India and from the northeastern states, continue to flock to Chennai for medical treatment and slowly but steadily from other parts of the country also. Patients also come to Chennai from the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, and several east European countries and even from some of the advanced countries like UK and US.


Medical research in India is traditionally confined to a few well-funded government institutions like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi and PGI, Chandigarh; medical research in the private sector in India was practically non-existent. Yet, in this background, several private institutions in Chennai have been making significant contributions to medical research in India. The research work done at the Adyar Cancer Institute (Oncology), Sankara Nethralaya (Ophthalmology) and the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (Diabetology) contributes the lion’s share of India’s total research output in their respective fields. Indeed, it is fair to state that it is the research work that keeps these institutions at the forefront of medicine in India.


After decades of experimentation with social healthcare and the recent boom in pre-paid or insurance-backed medicine, there is a resurgence of the healthcare industry as a sunrise sector, holding out hope and benefits for all stakeholders. Social impact investors are also funding corporate medicare and hospitals. Chennai, with its primacy in clinical services, education, research, training of health care professionals, health care technology and world-class institutions will remain the ‘Medical Capital of India.’ This can only augur well for the future of a Healthy India.

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