Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is setting up shop in India, offering its oncologists through video calls or even arranging patient travel to the provider's main campus in New York, the company announced Wednesday.
MSK oncologists who specialize in a patient's specific form of cancer will review their medical records and test results and provide a comprehensive written opinion, meet with them virtually or speak with their local oncologist about their care plan.
Both MSK and India were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pummeled MSK's finances and caused an alarming drop in cancer care across the world's second-most populous country.
MSK will open a physical location in Chennai but patients across India will be able to get care from their homes without traveling, the company said in in a news release. At the Chennai clinic, staff coordinating written and virtual consultations will be able to communicate in English, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.
MSK partnered with iCliniq, an Indian telemedicine provider, to offer these services. iCliniq specializes in second opinions and online medical consultations; its more than 3,500 doctors practice in 196 countries.
Memorial Sloan Kettering will provide services including diagnoses, radiology scan reviews, tumor sequencing, treatment recommendations and travel assistance to New York. For patients who opt to travel, MSK will help with visa letters, transportation arrangements to and from the airport, housing options and interpretation services in any language.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a dramatic drop in oncology services provided across 41 high-volume cancer centers in India, according to a recent study in the Lancet Oncology. Missed and delayed cancer diagnoses in India could cause a "serious public health problem in the next 5 years," the researchers warned.
Indian citizens have access to free healthcare at government-run facilities. However, the system is strained, with severe staff and supply shortages pushing many patients to pay out-of-pocket for services from private providers, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
India's government rolled out a new insurance program for low-income residents in fall 2018. Since then, the program has distributed more than 150 million beneficiary cards and covered almost 18 million hospital admissions, according to a March review by researchers at Duke University and the Public Health Foundation of India. But the program does not cover outpatient care—which accounted for about 60% of India's out-of-pocket expenses in 2016—and utilization seems to be concentrated in wealthier states.
Memorial Sloan Kettering also suffered during the pandemic, reporting a nearly 8% operating loss margin in calendar year 2020, having lost $417 million on $5.4 billion in operating revenue. The system saw fewer commercially insured patients and more Medicare and Medicaid patients last year.
Around three dozen American hospitals and health systems are pursuing patients in other countries as their domestic revenues flatten or decline. UPMC in Pittsburgh, for example, plans to operate five hospitals in China under a partnership with the Wanda Group, a multinational conglomerate based in Beijing. The first facility is projected to open in mid-2022.