Medical tourism is the act of traveling outside of one’s local area of residence for receiving medical services. Patients come from a wide range of geographic regions, ethnicities, and socioeconomic conditions; and travel for all types of procedures and treatments including cardiology, orthopedics, cancer, organ transplants, spine, stem cell, In Vitro Fertilization, dental, cosmetic treatments, bariatric, and health check-ups just to name a few.
However, there is still a lot to be determined for this growing industry. What is driving this growth? What can medical tourism professionals do to help the industry grow? By looking at the drivers of growth, as well a snapshot of the industry, we can predict future trends for the industry.
There are many factors influencing the growth of medical tourism. Chief among them are:
- Aging population
- Increase in degenerative diseases
- Lack of access to quality healthcare services
- Rising healthcare costs
- Long wait times
- Ease of travel
However, as recently as 10 years ago, you were likely to get a blank stare at best or even a chuckle at worst if you mentioned medical tourism in any serious discussion about healthcare.
Fast forward to today and the above reactions have almost disappeared; instead, they are being replaced by: “Right, I heard about that on the news the other day” or “A co-worker of mine just came back from Mexico where she had incredibly inexpensive dental treatment.”
Medical tourism has gone mainstream
As you read this sentence, there are thousands of patients preparing for a medical trip, undergoing a procedure or treatment outside their country or returning home from seeking medical care abroad. What has changed?
- Easy access to information on the internet
- Greater media exposure
- Governments, employers, and insurance companies are increasingly sending patients abroad for medical care.
- The adoption of new technologies, such as telehealth, that allow doctors to remotely monitor a patient’s vital signs or engage in an online consultation with a far-away patient.
- The increase in private companies, including foreign companies, which provide health services and health insurance schemes.
A major step in the ongoing growth and professionalization of the industry was the establishment of the Medical Tourism Association (MTA) in 2007. As a non-profit international membership association representing a broad-based constituency of healthcare and travel professionals across the globe, it has been instrumental in bringing buyers and sellers of healthcare services together while promoting high-quality standards through its training and educational programs.
Top medical tourism destinations
Top destinations for medical tourism are:
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
- The United States.
The growing popularity of medical tourism has also proved beneficial for the tourism industry. For instance, Thailand is a very popular country for medical as well as traditional tourism.
The medical tourism industry is made up of multiple stakeholders across different sectors:
Everyone involved in the tourism and medical industries plays a role, either directly or indirectly, in ensuring the integrity of the medical tourism value chain. For example, a certain country may boast top hospitals and doctors; however, if the government does not implement the necessary regulatory policies or promotional initiatives, the hospital’s success in attracting international buyers of healthcare will be limited.
If supporting sectors such as airlines, hotels and transportation do not understand the needs of traveling patients, the patient experience will be compromised – negatively impacting patient volume.
Trained and certified medical tourism professionals working at various points along the value chain have the unique opportunity to effect positive change to ensure a consistently high-quality international patient experience.
Be sure to check back for part two of this dive into the medical tourism industry, as we take this information and look into the future of the medical tourism industry.