Trusted by over 1.2 Million Global Healthcare Seekers

The Future of Medical Tourism


We are seeing in the horizon an amazing shift in the type of healthcare being found in Latin America. Once sought for its tropical rainforests and excellent cosmetic and dental services countries like Costa Rica El Salvador Guatemala Argentina and Mexico are attracting more and more patients for high specialty services such as knee and hip replacements spinal surgery bariatric procedures and cardiac care.

Many people involved in the medical tourism industry are asking what direction the medical tourism industry is headed and what the future of medical tourism holds. Is the medical tourism industry growing shrinking or is it remaining stagnant with no changes? The economic recession has obviously had an effect on medical tourism with some reported negative cases however for the most part positive effects.

The Negative Effects

The change in dynamics seen in the medical tourism industry effectuated by the economic recession is really being seen in countries that are catering to patients coming from less developed or developing countries.

For these patients many are spending more money than they would in their home country to travel overseas for medical care. Others are staying home and spending more on healthcare than they otherwise would have. Others still are simply postponing surgeries.

The Positive Effect

There is a real opportunity emerging for those countries which are catering to developed countries like the USA Canada United Kingdom and other European countries where the cost of healthcare can be 90% higher than in other countries. For these patients despite the economic recession which causes a lack of cash flow it may still be far more affordable to travel for healthcare.

Another significant factor as to why some of these less developed countries are seeing a significant growth in inbound medical tourism and developed countries are seeing a growth of outbound medical tourism is that many of the health insurance companies or health insurance schemes have started or are considering starting to provide international provider benefits for patients who leave their country for healthcare.

First Starters in Medical Tourism with US Health Insurance Companies Providers and Marketers

Three Medical Tourism Facilitator Members of the Medical Tourism Association (MTA) are the first facilitators to enter into agreements with outside insurance companies and marketers of insurance products to offer medical tourism to their members and participants.&ldquoThe Medical Tourism Association has worked very hard to promote our members.

We are very excited that our members are the only companies in the world to have received these special agreements and relationships to coordinate medical care for Americans traveling overseas. We are even more excited that the hospitals which have been selected to receive patients from America are also Medical Tourism Association members&rdquo said Renée-Marie Stephano Chief Operating Officer of the Medical Tourism Association and Editor of the Medical Tourism Magazine.

We are very proud that one of our Members WorldMed Assist has received an agreement with Swiss Reinsurance Company. Swiss Re a leading and highly diversified global reinsurer which operates in more than 25 countries has recognized medical tourism as part of their existing insurance policies making it available throughout the United States to employers who purchase their insurance.

The second member Surgical Trip has joined forces with USNow to offer a medical tourism program to all of its members. Mini medical plans or limited medical plans are not major medical or comprehensive coverage as they offer a more limited form of coverage. They are affordable lower cost health insurance plans for employers and/or employees who cannot afford major medical or comprehensive coverage.

Limited medical plans are typically offered to part time hourly and non-benefited full time employees. Millions of Americans are insured through limited medical plans and the number is growing each year. This monumental event will be the first time a national marketer of limited medical health insurance plans will make a medical tourism program available to all of its members.

We are also very pleased to announce that Healthbase has collaborated with Wellpoint Blue Cross Blue Shield to handle their &ldquopilot&rdquo program of offering medical tourism for Americans traveling to India.

Healthbase will handle all the medical tourism logistics and arrangements for WellPoint members. &ldquoWe advise insurance companies and employers to work with medical tourism facilitators who are Medical Tourism Association members because the association has done a level of due diligence and the facilitators have agreed to promote transparency in quality and pricing and work to create best practices in the industry through our monthly teleconferences and our certification program&rdquo said Stephano. &ldquoHealthbase Surgical Trip and WorldMed Assist are excellent companies as well as the other medical tourism facilitator members of our association.&rdquo

The Future of Medical Tourism in the United States

The future of medical tourism in the US is extremely positive. A recent Deloitte Report estimated that potentially over 23 million Americans could be traveling overseas by 2017 with those Americans spending over $79.5 billion dollars at international hospitals.

We are starting to see more US employers and insurance companies implement medical tourism in the United States and many more researching about implementation and how to determine the quality available overseas legal issues and most importantly which destinations hold the most promise. In 2008 The American Medical Association AMA came out with guidelines for medical tourism and recommendations for insurance companies who send patients overseas.

This was a very positive note for the medical tourism industry as the AMA acknowledged patients can receive high quality healthcare outside the U.S. and recommended levels of transparency which the MTA has promoted from the onset of the medical tourism boom.

US High Deductible Health Insurance Plans and Medical Tourism

High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) sometimes referred to as Consumer Driven Health Plans (CDHP) are a perfect fit for medical tourism and those that offer them will be the first adopters of medical tourism. I personally am insured on an Aetna health insurance plan with a $2000 deductible and coinsurance which means if I need any major surgery that costs over $40000 then I would personally have to pay $7000 out of my own pocket towards the surgery.

When health insurance carriers and employers who offer high deductible or consumer driven health plans begin to offer incentives such as waiving deductibles and coinsurance this will be a huge driver in the growth of medical tourism.

If I was given the option to get my surgery in the US and pay $7000 or have my surgery performed overseas at no out of pocket cost then I would seriously consider and appreciate the opportunity to save $7000 and obtain high quality healthcare at the same time.  Here are some very interesting and to the point facts about the growth of medical tourism in the US:

  • The International Foundation of Employee Benefits 2008 research shows that &ldquo73% of companies thought they would be offering a CDHP within the next five years.
  • Also the International Federation of Health Plans did a recent survey in 2008 of US employers and found that 11% of US employers are currently offering medical tourism.
  • Even more interesting are the statistics from a recent survey as to why US employers are implementing high deductible health plans/consumer driven health plans. Evidently it is not because they feel it provides a better healthcare delivery model or makes people healthier. In fact:
  • The majority of employers are not implementing CDHP and HSA&rsquos to provide employees with a vehicle for medical savings (only 3%).
  • The majority of employers are not implementing CDHP and HSA&rsquos to encourage better use of health care services (2%).
  • 36% are implementing them to force employees into understanding &ldquoconsumerism&rdquo.
  • 35% are implementing them to force employees to cost share and share in the expense of the healthcare costs in order to &ldquocontrol rising healthcare costs&rdquo.

These statistics send a huge message that employers are implementing high deductible health plans simply to lower their healthcare costs and to provide employees with a wake up call as to the high cost and expense involved of providing employees and individuals in the US healthcare benefits and insurance.

This innately should cause employees to make better more informed healthcare choices. As more and more US employers and individually insured Americans purchase high deductible health plans the potential financial savings to the patient will be very hard to ignore and many Americans may opt to travel for healthcare.

Missing the Opportunity

Some hospitals don't understand the opportunities in the medical tourism marketplace primarily because of the lack of hard data. Many European hospitals are surprisingly mistaken when it comes to the opportunities for the American patient. While the cost of healthcare in Europe is indeed higher than many of the well publicized medical tourism destinations like Thailand Singapore and India even a 30% reduction in healthcare spending is enough to sway the average out of pocket consumer.

American patients can save up to 70% in some cases on major surgeries in Europe. In fact some recent reports gathered from some of the top medical tourism facilitator members of the MTA have provided that in 2009 the volume of patients going overseas and patient inquiries is increasing and business is very good. Most facilitators have several European providers in their networks.

Baby Boomers and the Future of Overseas Retirement

One of the biggest market segments for medical tourism is the American baby boomers and Americans who will be retiring outside the United States. Almost 75 million baby boomers are heading toward retirement in the United States and the cost of private nursing care in the US is too expensive for many of them. Almost 5 million Americans are living overseas as expatriates now.

For example there are already an estimated 1.2 million retired Americans and Canadians in Mexico who are going to need high quality healthcare at affordable prices. While most Americans and Canadians won&rsquot buy into Mexico&rsquos national healthcare system which only costs about $350 a year many will opt to pay cash to receive healthcare at some of Mexico&rsquos top accredited hospitals for a fraction of the cost to travel back to the US for medical care.

MetLife recently did a study for retirees on the cost of assisted living facilities in the US and found that the average was about $3031 a month compared to assisted living facilities in Mexico which can cost one third of the price. And as a result we are seeing a huge boom in the developments of assisted living facilities in Mexico with investors and developers incorporating retirement living with high end resorts and healthcare facilities and clinics.  

Throughout Latin America developments are being built to cater towards retiring Americans Canadians and Europeans and some are integrating medical facilities and healthcare within the community so that residents can receive high quality healthcare in their own community without the necessity of travel.

It is also estimated that almost 250000 American citizens are living in the Philippines and the Philippines are working very hard at developing retirement communities and high quality healthcare for retiring Americans.

Inbound Medical Tourism to the United States

Inbound Medical Tourism where patients are traveling from other countries to the United States is still booming and successful. It has gotten more competitive as some US hospitals tighten up their prices to compete during the economic recession against other US hospitals attracting foreign patients. US hospitals are continuing to report success and many are expanding their efforts and work to help expand and attract more patients to the US for high quality healthcare.

The Emergence of Healthcare Cities & Medical Clusters

We are also starting to see the emergence of healthcare cities and clusters. The Medical Tourism Association has been assisting in this development through its free educational seminars held all over the globe. The objective is to assist in the creation of the governing body establish quality criteria and to assist in making the clusters run fairly to promote the hospitals and clinics that participate and to focus on promoting the location.

Healthcare cities are the most effective ways for hospitals clinics and countries to promote themselves. Some of the most successful healthcare cities are in Seoul Korea (CKMP) and Monterrey Mexico (Monterrey Healthcare City MHCC). Other healthcare cities and clusters are emerging throughout Latin America and Europe. Costa Rica recently established ProMed. Guatemala and El Salvador have established theirs and Colombia recently initiated a program which will be led by each major healthcare city.

One perfect example of how a healthcare city promotes itself is seen through the upcoming Latin America Medical Tourism & Health Tourism Congress which takes place April 26th-29th in Monterrey Mexico (

This conference is a joint effort between two non-profits Monterrey Healthcare city and the Medical Tourism Association. MHCC hopes to demonstrate their successful ability to promote their City first putting their competition aside and focusing on offering high quality of care modern technology and safe and modern environment of Monterrey.

Healthcare cities and clusters are successful because it is nearly impossible for one hospital to take on the responsibility of branding a geographical location.Forming a healthcare cluster is probably the most important single step in establishing a medical tourism destination and to enhance the location&rsquos chances of success as a destination for medical tourists and increasing patient flow.

All the stakeholders must work together to promote this image of high quality of healthcare to establish a &ldquobrand&rdquo name for the location throughout the world.A healthcare cluster is generally an independent organization of hospitals clinics medical professionals and the government in a specific city state or region. A healthcare cluster is funded by all the participants in the healthcare cluster and represents the interests of all the members and the cluster may also be supported by government funding.

Their purpose is to promote the members of the healthcare cluster and to build a reputation as having extremely high quality healthcare. Carefully targeted collective action by the members of the healthcare cluster often produces results that individual members are incapable of obtaining by or for themselves. Also before patients travel to these destinations there needs to be a belief and reputation that the location has extremely high quality healthcare infrastructure support and governmental sponsorship.

No one individual member can do this. A healthcare cluster can adopt and promote high standards of ethical and professional medical care. These standards will need to be developed based upon the existing medical requirements and licensure standards for the country state and city. Marketing standards and goals for the cluster need to be evaluated and designated to the appropriate entity or groups.

Advertising budgets need to be developed as well and tie in with the Department of Tourism and Department of Health for governmental support. Finally appropriate aftercare systems need to be created to appropriately handle patients. This means that tourism organizations and hotels and/or recovery centers need to be incorporated into the cluster for the purpose of creating safe and reliable aftercare networks.

In this way the healthcare cluster can create self-regulation within the location to achieve its goals of being established as an independent arm of the healthcare and tourism sectors.


While there is much speculation as to how the medical tourism industry will grow several things are fairly certain. Medical Tourism is a fast growing industry as patients from all around the world travel from one country to another for healthcare. Insurance companies are offering international provider networks to insureds employers using medical tourism facilitators and highly developed international patient centers.

Market opportunities due to affordability and accessibility make just about every destination a potential for medical tourism to someone somewhere. Baby Boomers will continue to provide the volume of patients which necessitates the development of more assisted living and retirement centers overseas and the need for healthcare access for these Boomers.

Inbound medical tourism will continue to raise competition and keep domestic providers in check of their pricing and perhaps allow already strained systems the opportunity to become more efficient and affordable. And healthcare cities and medical clusters will facilitate the average patient&rsquos search for high quality of care overseas and offer valuable solutions to current healthcare needs. For more information about healthcare clusters please contact

RENEE-MARIE STEPHANORenee-Marie Stephano is a Founder and COO of the Medical Tourism Association also known as MTA the first international non-profit trade association for the medical tourism industry. Ms. Stephano also serves as general counsel for the MTA and is Editor of the Medical TourismMagazine a monthly journal that addresses all of the issues surrounding medical tourism including legal issues accreditation economic issues and a geographical focus on countries growing their business in treating foreign patients.

Ms. Stephano received her undergraduate degrees in international relations in Virginia and received her Juris Doctorate degree in Law in Pennsylvania. She has a background in international marketing and health law and then went on to open her own law firm spending six years serving as general counsel for a US national healthcare administrator which was the first US healthcare administrator to implement medical tourism into both self funded and fully insured health plans in the United States.

Ms. Stephano works full time for the Medical Tourism Association and is considered an expert in medical tourism on legal issues. In her role at the Medical Tourism Association Ms. Stephano helps countries and hospitals create strategic marketing plans and helps identify target markets. She hashelped many countries and hospitals achieve their goals of attracting foreign patients and international insurance companies.

Ms. Stephano works with global health care providers to maintain transparency with respect to quality of care as they increase their flow of patients and she also works with medical travel facilitators to establish best practices to ultimately ensure patient safety.JONATHAN EDELHEITJonathan Edelheit is President of the Medical Tourism Association. Through the Medical Tourism Association Mr. Edelheit currently provides information about the medical tourism industry to several governments in their medical tourism plans and initiatives and is currently working with some of the largest US health insurance companies and Employers in implementing medical tourism into their health plans.

The Medical Tourism association is made up of the top hospitals and insurance companies from around the world. Mr. Edelheit is also co-editor of the Medical Tourism Magazine a monthly magazine published by the Medical Tourism Association.Previous to founding the Medical Tourism Association Mr. Edelheit was in charge of United Group programs a large US healthcare administrator with clients such as DaimlerChrysler Sysco State of Florida and Idaho.

Mr. Edelheit was the pioneer of medical tourism in the US with the first company to implement medical tourism into a US health insurance plan. Believing that Medical Tourism could be a solution to the US healthcare crisis Mr. Edelheit left United Group Programs to start the Medical Tourism Association and to help educate about the high quality of care available overseas.

Mr. Edelheit has been featured or mentioned in over 40 magazines from Time Magazine to Newsweek and in February was featured as a visionary in US healthcare for his activities in Medical Tourism byExecutive Managed Healthcare Magazine which goes out to 40000 top US healthcare executives.Mr. Edelheit is also an attorney and is considered an expert in US healthcare benefits

Learn about how you can become a Certified Medical Tourism Professional→
Disclaimer: The content provided in Medical Tourism Magazine ( is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. We do not endorse or recommend any specific healthcare providers, facilities, treatments, or procedures mentioned in our articles. The views and opinions expressed by authors, contributors, or advertisers within the magazine are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of our company. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, We make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, regarding the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability of the information contained in Medical Tourism Magazine ( or the linked websites. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk. We strongly advise readers to conduct their own research and consult with healthcare professionals before making any decisions related to medical tourism, healthcare providers, or medical procedures.
Free Webinar: Building Trust, Driving Growth: A Success Story in Medical Travel Through Exceptional Patient Experiences