The progress of the Medical Tourism phenomenon has had enormous impact not just for the patient alone but it has also influenced economic, social, environmental, business and medical sectors. Dr. Prem Jagyasi, renowned researcher and consultant puts light on both the positive and negative impacts of medical tourism which are more than obvious.
Today, diseases are part of everybody’s existence; however, man still hasn’t accepted defeat at the hands of syndromes that afflict him as he continues the battle for living a healthy life in the face of insurmountable odds and healthcare crises. In this quest for existence, distance is a small hurdle and matters least when it comes to resurgence from imminent fatalities, hence traveling to foreign countries for healthcare purposes has been and is predicted to be a rising trend for years to come.
As per recent research, the four most popular reasons given for why patients travel abroad to receive medical treatment were ‘Affordability (costly in home country)’ at 88%, ‘Accessibility (waiting period is high)’ at 66%, ‘Better quality (care and support services are better quality than the home country) at 38% and ‘Availability (not available in home country) at 46% (Download or read complete research online at www.Dr.Prem. com). With these important reasons, the growth of Medical Tourism is inevitable; hence it is important to understand the positives and negatives of this growing trend across all sectors.
IMPACT ON GLOBAL HEALTHCARE
Innovation in Healthcare Solutions
Innovation for the most part stems from exigencies. When it comes to healthcare solutions, there is a great demand for innovation, a close second only to nanotechnology! The most basic of primary needs, arises during rare medical predicaments that are either not curable in a person’s own country or, are way out of his budget. To meet these innovation requisites, countries are currently meting out a variety of specialized treatment options, irrespective of their development status. So, Americans coming to India, Thailand or Singapore for a cardiac surgery, when similar or even advanced technology is available at home…is definitely not odd any longer.
Enhancements in Healthcare Solutions
Hospitals in any region always provide some amount of basic service to local inhabitants. But these therapies remain stagnant for years together without any attempts at amendment or modernization. Enter foreign nationals to avail some frequent treatment, and the entire scenario transforms. The same clinic with barely any essentials now has state-of-the-art medical equipments, advanced diagnostic facilities, a 24-hour emergency service center, customer helpdesks offering international toll free calling, a fully equipped ICU, and advanced surgical amenities etc. Such is the effect of healthcare tourism on a nation’s therapeutics industry.
Enhancements in number of Healthcare Professionals
With enhancements in remedial services, comes the demand for people who can administer them. Health tourists constantly prefer to consult doctors of high repute, with well-known prowess in the required medical field, whose skills have already benefited patients with similar medical conditions. The enormous need for proficient personnel breeds more specialists who cater to this escalating requirement. The number and eminence of medical experts and healthcare staff goes a long way in ensuring the success of not just the particular healthcare unit but also the nation that harbors them.
International Standards in Healthcare Solutions
Apart from the physician’s status, a potential foreign medical tourist looks at numerous other aspects of the medical establishment, to which he entrusts his wellbeing. Quality as a facet of healthcare is justifiably emphasized today, by the patients who are conversant within the therapeutic sector. As per industry standards, accreditations from authorized bodies are recognized and accepted. Other variations which monitor quality and accountability standards are also improved upon and utilized. National accreditations, which have their own stringent parameters, are also improving upon international standards to meet international patient requirements and expectations.
Improvisation in Knowledge Processes
Dispensation, storage & interpretation of available medical records and data files; a process termed ‘Knowledge Processing’ has made the medical system transparent beyond medical authorities worldwide, to respective patients as well. Prior to the global focus on health tourism, the importance of this process was not felt as keenly as it is today. With the advent of the World Wide Web, medical proceedings, subject data and case histories of patients around the world is now available to doctors operating in any country. It provides them with excellent opportunities to interpret, assimilate, improve and enhance the overall health services afforded.
Emergence of supporting/subsidiary Healthcare Infrastructure
Globalization of medicine has brought in its wake, the emanation of several other allied international sectors like healthcare insurance, vast selection of tourism getaways, varied choices of traveling and unlimited options for hospitable lodging in the country that one chooses to get treated in. Besides, the banking sector has facilitated advancing of loans, comfortable payback schemes, credit card facilities; easy access to internet payment gateways, abundant foreign currency exchange centers and other painless international banking procedure to help foreign tourists. Such programs have completely ruled out affordability or inaccessibility to capital, as a hinDr.ance to disease alleviation. Besides, obtaining medical visas is now an effortless procedure.
The emergence of global healthcare is incomplete without these associated factors that contribute in equal measure to its accomplishments.
POSITIVE IMPACTS ON A NATION
When established as an industry, medical tourism is significantly instrumental in molding the society of a nation. It contributes not just in terms of enhanced, speedier or affordable healthcare, but also lends itself to infrastructural betterments, more employment opportunities with an increased propensity towards overall wealth creation. In nations that are still in the developing stages, such improvisations pave the way towards industrial growth to cater to the burgeoning demands of the foreign health seekers. A developed nation, on the other hand gains prominence as a popular healthcare destination and people start thronging in for the medical attention.
Manufacturing industries, foreign investments, business exports, agricultural, mineral products or information technology services, are currently among the most prominent and largest contributors to any nation’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP). Going by recent media reports, medical tourism will soon top the charts as a key money grosser pitching in significant contribution in GDP for a nation which affords such facilities. Plainly, it has enormous potential as a service-sector industry and private hospitals stand to gain the most from it, provided they invest in the appropriate medical infrastructure and adequately promote their capabilities. As more and more foreigners troop into the country to avail cheaper, better and faster remedies for their illnesses, the chances of financial gain with a higher return on the basic investment is then guaranteed.
Several industries, closely associated with the world health tourism sector are significantly impacted by its growth and development. These closely allied industries which are promoted as a result of the surge in medical tourism get a new foundation and recognition in the global sphere and are forever retained in memories, standing a chance of benefiting through future investments:
All medical tourists do not visit a country with the express purpose of a treatment or surgery. They also intend to tour the country’s other historical or natural attractions. This trend is growing as tourists tend to invest the amount they save in healthcare, during sight-seeing. This serves as significant revenue for the tourism industry and forms a portion of total profits of the industry.
The pharmaceutical industry is very closely associated with the field of medical science. When one undergoes treatment or surgery in one country, he is bound to take over-the-counter Dr.ugs sold in the same area. This increases the sale of medicines in a directly proportional manner such that, the number of surgeries or treatment conducted directly adds to the profits of the pharmaceutical company of the country that is a prominent medical tourism destination.
- Medical Tourism Facilitator
Because of the complexity of this decision-making process, some medical tourists seek help from travel agents or the international patient departments of hospitals, or concierge service providers. While all these agencies can act as effective intermediaries, none can offer a comprehensive medical tourism support services in the same manner as a one-stop medical tourism facilitator. This is an agency staffed by a team of professionals who are equipped to offer a seamless combination of what would otherwise be complicated arrangements within medical tourism.
- Public and Private sectors
The medical tourism industry is served both by private as well as public sector industries. While the public sector contributes to the overall infrastructure and associated processes like permitting medical visa, clearing foreign passports, facilitating foreign exchange etc; the private sector totally takes over the comfort & hospitality department as well as the healthcare facilities.
The kind of medical care and amenities provided by private sector industries is generally far more superior to that offered by government establishments. Under such situations, a public-private partnership tends to equalize profits, adds to overall infrastructural benefits and caters to the needs of the foreign medical tourist, in a balanced manner making the overall procedure smooth, rapid and economical.
A country that prospers in the healthcare tourism industry will experience less of the ‘Brain-Dr.ain’ phenomenon which commonly portrays the exit of trained professionals from their home country to a foreign nation availing better employment and financial opportunities. This phenomenon quite frequent among the medical community, is easily plugged because medical tourism pays ample impetus to the treatment of rare global disorders, as a lifetime vocation Intelligent or expert medical professionals generally look up to such challenges, as they get the required job satisfaction and financial fulfillment even when stationed in their native country.
When one country serves as a major tourism destination for another and there is constant exchange of treatment and revenue between them, the political links between those nations are affected in a positive manner. Stronger bonds between those nations are forged when the host nation provides the foreign tourists with several amenities besides conducive medical treatment.
NEGATIVE IMPACT ON A NATION
With patient travels, there is significant risk of corresponding bacterial travel. Recent superbug research has created significant alert. All industry professionals must understand the negative impact of communicable diseases. Hence, good strategies should be developed by global organizations to protect spread of such diseases. Understanding and control is vital.
It is true that medical tourism escalates the per capita rates of the host country but it escalates several other detrimental factors as well. For infrastructural growth, the natural greenery or forest cover of a region is compromised in order to accommodate more buildings, hospital facilities, roads, treatment or diagnostic centers etc. To supplement the above, there is a continuous discharge of polluted air, solid -toxic medical waste, litters of sewage consisting of oil and chemicals. Architectural, noise and visual pollution also has a direct negative impact on the atmosphere.
Health tourism also creates a dearth of local resources like power, food stock, fuel and other unredeemable natural resources, which could already be in short supply within the host country. Water, another non-replenishable natural resource, is commonly misused in hotels, spas and swimming pools through careless personal use by tourists. This not only generates large volumes of waste water but also leads to water shortages and depletion of natural water sources.
With an increased number of health tourists, the hospital adopts the policy of being paid in accordance to an overseas system. Such a structure, even though economical to a foreigner, tends to be expensive for the native. As a result, all sections of people within a particular nation are not able to avail the advanced treatment options available within the country. This creates a negative impact on the health infrastructure of a country.
Healthcare tourism in most countries runs through private institutions. Currently the private sector in most developed countries accounts for a larger number of surgical procedures, treatment operations, and ultimately in the overall number of patients from all over the globe. Thus the revenue generated by this sector is much greater compared to that generated by the government or the public sector. The latter shows low expenditure in healthcare sector, poor management of resources, corruption, infrastructure shortfalls, slower growth, etc., to name a few. The uncontrolled growth of the private sector leads to inequalities and profit imbalance across both sectors.
Ethical & Legal Impact
There are significant chances that many medical tourism hospitals would tap into unethical practices to grab international patients, such as organ transplants, restricted regional treatments or several other medical services which are restricted, regulated or controlled in one region.
Legal issues are also likely to rise as this industry presents unique problems and challenges for both consumers as well as providers.
Medical Tourism doesn’t only provide benefits to international patients; it extends a wide spectrum of benefits to many industries such as the healthcare industry, travel & tourism, commercial sector, government relationships, international accreditation sector, amongst others.
Both positive and negative impacts of medical tourism on healthcare, economic, social and environmental sectors creates opportunities and challenges for this growing industry which require cohesive collaborative work between various stakeholders.
About the Author
Dr. Prem Jagyasi is a Chartered Management, Healthcare Marketing and Medical Tourism Consultant. Providing high-profile consultancy services to Government Authorities and Private Healthcare organizations, he is noticeably leading medical tourism consultant. He also serves Medical Tourism Association, as an Honorary Chief Strategy Officer. He can be reached at Prem@Jagyasi.com | www.DrPrem.com