When defining medical tourism, take it as it is. As an industry that has not hit the mainstream in full capacity, there is room to keep an open mind about the ins and outs, ups and downs. This industry consists of many things and cannot be defined in limited terms. Traveling to another country, state, city or region to receive medical, dental or surgical care for better quality, availability, access or pricing are guidelines for defining this niche industry. This does not only encompass individuals in search of the best surgeon, but in some cases it also involves the government sending a country’s population of patients to another country because the quality or availability at home just is not what they require.
Governments spend millions of dollars on sending patients out of the country for healthcare annually. The healthcare technology in some countries is just not advanced enough for certain types of procedures. And, not every country is blessed with a plethora of hospital beds or highly skilled physicians.
For example, Jordan has 24.4 physicians per 10,000 people, compared to Nigeria at 4.0, according to the World Health Organization. Countries traveling to countries is happening. It is an example of how medical tourism is taking place on a larger level, and it’s not just individuals researching where the best place is to have dental work.
It is a needed industry, and the more steps a country takes to develop its healthcare and be prepared for international travelers, the more chances it has to become recognized as a great partner to have.
Taking strides to brand your country as a destination for healthcare are steps that could put you on the map when one country is searching for the best option to treat its citizens in need. Some have made agreements, and others are simply in the right proximity.
But either way the receiving country’s revenue is increasing. At the same time, governments are realizing how much money they are spending on sending patients abroad and are beginning to take steps to improve the healthcare at home. Despite all efforts, there will always be countries that are more advanced and countries that are always trying to catch up.
Making agreements to boost medical tourism
Jordan, known for having great quality healthcare and the right number of physicians and hospitals to treat locals and internationals, attracted 180,000 international patients in 2011. That number is a 20 percent decrease from the previous year; a lot of it was due to the turmoil in the Middle East.
Jordan and the Private Hospitals Association (PHA) know the potential they have and are putting together plans to bring those numbers back up. The most recent plan is for the PHA to sign agreements with a Nigerian consulting company and the Gulf Health Insurance Association.
The agreement with Nigeria will ensure that they are referring their patients to the Kingdom’s hospitals. PHA executive director Abdullah Hindawi told The Jordan Times that statistics show each year that 300,000 Nigerians leave their country for treatment, but only 250 chose Jordan for healthcare.
Instead they go to countries such as India and Egypt. With such a large number of medical travelers every year, this agreement will greatly increase Jordan’s revenue from the medical tourism sector and further assist in branding the country as a destination for healthcare.
The other part of the plan is for the PHA to sign an agreement with the Gulf Health Insurance Association, which will offer the option to Jordanian and Palestinian expatriates in the Gulf States to travel to Jordan for treatment, which will be covered through the health insurance policies in their host countries.
Instead of targeting individual medical travelers, Jordan is thinking big – It is targeting in bulk.
The power of proximity
Israel offers advanced technology in treatments such as oncology, cardiac, trauma and in vitro fertilization treatment and is in the position to offer quality care at a lower price. For example, Americans could save up to 65 percent by traveling to Israel for treatment .
Israel’s healthcare offerings and price put them in a good position to attract medical tourists; data from recent years show that annual revenues from this sector are around $120 million USD.
No agreements have been made, but thousands of Palestinians travel to Israel for treatment each year. The medical system in Palestine cannot accommodate its population; they have one bed per one thousand residents compared to Israel that has six beds per one thousand. The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) health budgets and medical insurance funds pay for this treatment, while some patients just pay out of pocket.
While healthcare in Israel may be less expensive for some, the PA’s medical bill in 2010 was around $15 million USD. But, due to the PA health department’s financial crunch, it has put tight restrictions on approving medical care in Israel and began sending more patients to Egypt and Jordan. This resulted in a 20 percent reduction in its medical bill to Israel.
Additionally, Israel’s Health Ministry has put a number of restrictions on treating Palestinians, making it difficult for them to receive healthcare. Some restrictions are that they must have an entrance permit to Israel, a financial liability statement from the PA, and if patients seek private care they must pay for it in advance.
It has been too pricy and complicated for this country’s patients to continue receiving treatment in Israel, but the fact remains that healthcare in Palestine still cannot support the needs. Even if the PA starts making efforts to improve its local healthcare, it will be years before it can accommodate everyone. These patients need to go somewhere, so which country will start receiving the bulk of them?
Perhaps Jordan’s active medical tourism industry will beat everyone to it and set up an agreement with the PA, or maybe another surrounding country will step it up and realize the large amount of revenue they are missing out on.
2 . Israel Business, Danny Rubenstein
3. Israel Business, Danny Rubenstein