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Medical Tourism on Rise in Land Down Under

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Interest in the land Down Under is on the rise, thanks, in no small part, to a lift from medical tourism.

Record numbers of international tourists almost 560,000 — visited Australia in January, up 8.7 percent from figures during the same period last year, the government reported. With more than 530,000 followers, Tourism Australia‘s official Instagram account (@Australia) boasts one of the most popular travel and tourism brands in the world.

Even Major League Baseball will introduce the American pastime to Australia when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks open their seasons in Sydney next week.

Certainly, there is plenty of room for medical tourism. The Australian government, which is strategizing to increase health and medical exports, thinks so.

Australian hospital administrators and doctors say a small, but increasing number of wealthy patients from Asia, the United States and New Zealand are traveling to Australia for treatments, such as orthopedic and heart surgeries, cancer services and in vitro fertilization.

Boost to Economy

Tourism Research Australia reports that more than 10,000 medical tourism patients flew into the continent last year double the number from 2006 — for procedures and treatments, pumping more than $26 million into the national economy, up from $12.7 million in 2006.

The linchpin behind the increased push to attract medical tourism patients is the new $1 billion Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, the state of Victoria's first hospital to include a private floor for insured patients as well as medical tourists seeking world-class care. Scheduled for opening in 2015 in Melbourne's prestigious Parkville Precinct, the center is funded by public/private partnerships including both local and federal governments.

We see inbound (medical) tourism of that type as just one part of a broader health export strategy that the state is developing and that would include conferences and would include inbound research support and inbound investment, Victoria state Health Minister David Davis told the Australia News Network.

Governments Buying In

Renée-Marie Stephano, President of the Medical Tourism Association, said more governments are buying into medical tourism and, in turn, learning how national and regional interests can generate revenue, attract patients, support the creation of jobs and extend the physical infrastructure.

The Medical Tourism Association, which will host the 7th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress, Sept. 20-24, in Washington, D.C., convenes a Global Ministerial Summit at the event for ministers of foreign affairs, health and tourism, trade commissioners, counsel generals and related government authorities to share experiences and insights for promoting medical tourism in their regions.

Travelers love to spend, and patients who travel across borders for medical procedures and treatments have proven to spend even more about 5-10 times above and beyond the common traveler, said Stephano. Not surprisingly, policymakers are evaluating ways in which their local and national governments can get a piece of this lucrative pie.

Professor John Catford, executive director of medical services at Epworth Healthcare, the largest private hospital group in Australia's southern state of Victoria, told the Australia News Network he's sees about 600 international patients each year from 30 different countries including the Pacific Rim, Singapore and Indonesia.

We need a supportive government framework that actually encourages (medical tourism) and actually sorts out particular barriers or obstacles, he said. A typical one would be visas so people can come in easily, with their families support, to receive medical care.

Healthy Competition

Medical tourism has become big business for many rival nations looking for a leg-up on lucrative travel and tourism markets. Davis says the competition for international healthcare dollars among providers is healthy for public medical services as well.

What will be seen is a greater public capacity because you've got additional revenue flow coming into our health system in Victoria that can help fund additional capacity and also fund the additional research streams that are very important, he said.

Most public hospitals in Australia already treat international patients to receive additional revenue from their health insurers, but do not provide for separate floors as proposed for the Melbourne cancer center. The Australian government has hinted that private funding needs to play a bigger role in containing the nation's rising healthcare costs and has appointed a commission to
examine all federal spending.

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