Millions of people travel abroad for medical treatment – from dental work to major heart surgery – at a fraction of the cost back home. Medical tourism brings in billions of dollars a year worldwide.
Medical tourism is when people travel from one place to another across the international border to receive medical treatment.
So, we wanted to know, what exactly is medical tourism?
Somebody who crosses borders to obtain health care in an environment outside their own is called a medical tourist.
Since the mid-20th century, health care costs have exploded in many developed countries, especially the United States. Some have blamed this on the closed procedure and drug pricing system, which does not allow for free-market competition. So when prices rise, they don’t go back down.
Other factors, like exaggerated insurance billing, malpractice lawsuits, and severe but infrequent doctor visits, contribute to increasing costs. According to a 2011 OECD report, a procedure like a heart bypass can cost more than 100,000 dollars in the US. However, that same procedure could run less than 4,000 dollars in Mexico.
Medical tourism is a viable and beneficial alternative for those without health insurance or high deductibles. The most common medical tourism destinations for Americans include Thailand, Mexico, India, and Cuba. In many of these developing countries, medical tourism represents a lucrative and growing source of economic revenue.
Countries are competing for medical tourists. In Japan, the government is instituting new policies to help increase the number of hospitals accepting foreign patients. Worldwide, the industry is worth up to 55 billion dollars.
However, there are certain drawbacks. The US Center for Disease Control has registered several safety concerns over higher rates of bacterial infections and diseases for medical tourists. These can be attributed to less strict sanitation rules in other countries and the presence of contagious diseases that are otherwise rare in the US. In 2014, an American woman, who traveled to the Dominican for plastic surgery, contracted bacterial infections.
Additionally, transplant tourism has become a highly controversial issue. Medical tourists can obtain organs and transplant operations without waiting in a long line for less money. But the World Health Organization says the organs often come from vulnerable people.
Most of the world has wholly banned transplant tourism. However, organs can still be purchased on the black market. Medical tourism also presents problems for locals who now face more competition for healthcare in their own country. Wealthy outsiders can crowd out native citizens and raise prices for specific procedures by increasing demand.
Healthcare providers, too, can be required to change their practices to accommodate and cater to foreigners. A recent report on healthcare in developed countries ranked the US last in effectiveness and efficiency. This is even though the US spends more on health care per person than any other country.
Presently, the future of medical tourism is expected to remain profitable as experts predict billions of dollars in revenue growth in the coming years.
Definitions of Medical Tourism
At present, there is not any agreed definition of medical tourism exits. Some countries count foreign patients visiting hospitals, whereas others count the entry of individual patients into the country as medical tourism. Some countries record nationality but not the place of residence of patients; as a result, it can be problematic when migrants return to their home country for treatment.
However, several attempts have been made to define “medical tourism.” There is some selected definition of medical tourism are following as:
According to OECD, 2011, “When consumers elect to travel across international borders to receive some form of medical treatment, which may span the full range of medical services (most commonly includes dental care, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery, and fertility treatment).”
According to McKinsey, “When a person, whose primary and explicit purpose in traveling is to obtain medical treatment in the foreign country, excluding emergency tourists, wellness tourists, expatriates seeking care in their country of residence, patients traveling to neighboring regions to the closest available care is referred as medical tourism.”
K. Pollard, International Medical Tourism Journal 2011, defines, “A medical tourist is someone who travels outside of his or her own country for surgery or elective treatment of a medical condition.”
If we apply this narrow definition, we DO NOT include dental tourists, cosmetic surgery tourists, spa and wellness travelers, “accidental” medical tourists (business travelers and holidaymakers who fall ill while abroad and are admitted to hospital), or expatriates who access healthcare in a foreign country.
Traveling for health and wellness care has a long history. People have been traveling for centuries in the name of health, from ancient Greeks and Egyptians who flocked to hot springs and baths to 18th and 19th century Europeans and Americans who were coming to spas hoping to cure diseases like tuberculosis.
The history of medical tourism in Europe has tended to be based around spas and seawater treatments, mainly because of the large numbers of thermal and mineral springs and sea coasts, but modern medical tourism as it, also called health tourism nowadays, usually refers to people, who travel abroad to get specialized healthcare.
Medical tourism started its history as early as the 1930s. It became popular among the USA and European countries’ well-off residents, who wanted to get good quality health services abroad. Since 1983, staying fit and healthy has been consumers’ top priority and, according to the Future Foundation’s Changing Lives Survey, will continue to be in the future.
Fortunately, in the past years, more and more people worldwide have learned about medical tourism as it is one of the quickly developing parts of the tourism industry nowadays, which, according to Flanigan (2009), has been projected to expand globally by 2017. India also has its own unique history in medical tourism.
Types of Medical Tourism
Medical Tourism is an emerging concept in the tourism industry. Medical tourism is the act of traveling to obtain medical care. There are mainly two categories of medical tourism. These are the following:
- International Medical Tourism
- Domestic Medical Tourism
International Medical Tourism
When people who live in one country travel to another country to receive medical, dental, and surgical care while at the same time receiving equal to or more outstanding care than they would have in their own country, and are traveling for medical care because of affordability, better access to care or a higher level of quality of care is called International Medical Tourism.
International Medical Tourism can be further divided into two types:
- Inbound Medical Tourism
- Outbound Medical Tourism
Inbound Medical Tourism refers to tourists of outside origin entering a particular country. When people travel outside their host/native country to another country for medical purposes, it is called inbound medical tourism.
Outbound Medical Tourism refers to tourists traveling from the country of their origin to another country. Medical tourists travel to a foreign region, which is outbound tourism for their own country.
Domestic Medical Tourism
Domestic Medical Tourism is where people who live in one country travel to another city, region, or state to receive medical, dental, and surgical care while at the same time receiving equal to or more excellent care than they would have in their home city, and are traveling for medical care because of affordability, better access to care or a higher level of quality of care.
Importance and Benefits of Medical Tourism
Medical Tourism is a unique concept in the travel and tourism industry. It plays a vital role in the tourism sector. A large number of people travel for treatment every year. Medical tourism helps develop the economy and living standards of human civilization. The importance and benefits of medical tourism are the following:
- Hugely beneficial for economic development.
- Creates more healthcare jobs.
- Creates more healthcare facilities.
- Give access to the latest technology in the medical sector.
- Improve the quality of life for everybody involved.
- Participating in Global Healthcare.
- Increase Better Global Healthcare Standards.
- Better Knowledge Exchange.
- Generate Foreign Revenues.
- Social Benefits.
- Political Benefits.
- Economic Benefits.
Reasons to Choose Medical Care Abroad
There are many reasons due to people travel abroad to seek medical treatment. The most common reasons for medical tourism are:
- Disappointment with medical treatment at home.
- Lack of access to health care at a reasonable cost and time.
- Inadequate insurance and income to pay for local healthcare.
- The rise of high-quality medical care in developing countries.
- Greater mobility.
- A wish to get medical services away from the familiar environment (escapism).
- The growing popularity of getting medical services abroad.
- No wait-list.
- Accesses to the latest technology.
Medical Tourism Issues and Challenges
Medical tourism is a market combination of the healthcare and tourism sectors. Medical tourism is growing day by day internationally as well as domestically. When people travel to a foreign region to get medical treatment, many issues and challenges arise. Due to this, medical tourism faces many problems and difficulties: technological, language barriers, etc.
Medical tourism also creates problems for the host country and destination population. There are many advantages of medical tourism as well as drawbacks. Medical tourism is an emerging concept in the travel and tourism industry.
In ancient times people traveled from one country to another, one destination to another, for medical treatment like a hot spring bath, medical therapies, etc. But the current scenario has changed; today, people travel for many reasons, like getting affordable best medical treatment in the developing country, no waiting list, etc.
Medical tourism is facing many issues and challenges. Some are the following:
- Follow-up Problems The follows up care is very difficult in medical tourism. If a patient gets an infection or other problems after surgery after going to his own country, then there is no well-established medical tourism follow-up care.
- Language Barrier Cultural and language barriers are the major issues in front of medical tourism. If the medical staff does not understand the language of the patients, then the whole process becomes difficult for the patient.
- Lack of Infrastructure People travels from a developing country to a developing country for medical treatment. These developing countries do not have a well-established world-class infrastructure. Hospitals have many problems like proper water and power supply, poor quality food, and poor hygiene.
- Lack of Professionalism, The medical staff in most developing countries lacks professionalism and behavioral aspect. The soft skills of the medical workforce like warmth, concern, and friendliness are still underdeveloped.
- Difficulties in Promotion The developing countries are suffering from problems in promoting medical tourism. There is a lack of quality accreditation and regulation in hospitals and other medical services providers. There is no uniform pricing and standardization of services which causes a barrier to building customers’ trust in the services offered.
- Rule and Regulation One of the severe concerns in medical tourism is related to differences in law in different countries. There is no common law in medical tourism all over the world. There is unrealistic and weak law in medical tourism. This is a significant challenge faced by medical tourism.
- Organs Trafficking Most of the world banned transplant tourism because organs often come from vulnerable people. However, organs can still be purchased on the black market.
Services Provided by Medical Tourism Facilitators
Medical tourism facilitators play a crucial role in the medical tourism sector. Medical tourism facilitators also play a significant role in making your medical travel easy and comfortable. A good medical tourism facilitator provides the following services:
- Customizes Treatment Packages
- 24*7 Support & Guidance
- Assistance for Medical Visa Letter
- Prompt Doctor Appointments
- Hassle-Free In-Patient Admissions
- Precise Money Exchange
- Safe accommodation as per Patients Budget
- Provision for Local SIM Cards
- Eminent Interpreters
- Guidance for End-to-End Transportation
- Appeasing Tourist Packages
- Post Treatment Follow-Ups