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Medical tourism or health tourism is the travel of people to another country for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment in that country. Traditionally, people would travel from less developed countries to major medical centres in highly developed countries for medical treatment that was unavailable in their own communities.
The recent trend is for people to travel from developed countries to third world countries for medical treatments because of cost consideration, though the traditional pattern still continues. Another reason for travel for medical treatment is because some treatments may not be legal in the home country, such as some fertility procedures.
The medical treatment which some people seek and obtain in a foreign country include elective procedures as well as complex specialized surgeries such as joint replacement(knee/hip), cardiac surgery, and cosmetic surgeries. Some people go abroad for dental surgery or fertility treatments. The main reasons for fertility tourism are legal regulation of some procedures in the home country, or lower price. In-vitro fertilization, donor insemination and surrogacy are major procedures involved.
People with rare genetic disorders may travel to another country where treatment of these conditions is better understood. However, virtually every type of health care, including psychiatry, alternative treatments, convalescent care and even burial services are available.
WHERE IN THE WORLD?…
Over 50 countries have identified medical tourism as a national industry.
WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE CAN I EXPECT?…
Medical tourism carries some risks that locally-provided medical care does not.
Some countries, such as India, South Africa, or Thailand have very different infectious disease-related epidemiology to Europe and North America. Exposure to diseases without having built up natural immunity can be a hazard for weakened individuals, specifically with respect to gastrointestinal diseases (e.g. Hepatitis A, amoebic dysentery,paratyphoid) which could weaken progress and expose the patient to mosquito-transmitted diseases, influenza, and tuberculosis. However, because in poor tropical nations diseases run the gamut, doctors seem to be more open to the possibility of considering any infectious disease, including HIV, TB, and typhoid, while there are cases in the West where patients were consistently misdiagnosed for years because such diseases are perceived to be “rare” in the West.
The quality of post-operative care can also vary dramatically, depending on the hospital and country, and may be different from US or European standards. Also, travelling long distances soon after surgery can increase the risk of complications. Long flights and decreased mobility associated with window seats can predispose one towards developing deep vein thrombosis and potentially a pulmonary embolism. Other vacation activities can be problematic as well — for example, scars may become darker and more noticeable if they sunburn while healing.
Also, health facilities treating medical tourists may lack an adequate complaints policy to deal appropriately and fairly with complaints made by dissatisfied patients.
Differences in healthcare provider standards around the world have been recognised by the World Health Organization, and in 2004 it launched the World Alliance for Patient Safety. This body assists hospitals and government around the world in setting patient safety policy and practices that can become particularly relevant when providing medical tourism services.
If there are complications, the patient may need to stay in the foreign country for longer than planned or if they have returned home, will not have easy access for follow up care.
WHEN CAN I DO THAT?…
It is possible to make a medical or health tourism related journey at various times of the year, depending on the type of treatment sought.
DO I NEED ANYTHING SPECIAL TO DO THAT?…
Under ‘What Kind of Experience can I Expect?’, we have outlined, but not exhaustively, some of the possible benefits and risks of this type of tourism.
WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND?…
DWF is not qualified to provide recommendations and you should ensure you have satisfied yourself that all legal and clinical considerations have been met before committing to medical or health tourism. We have listed below just some of the countries offering medical tourism.
Israel is a popular destination for medical tourism. In 2010, Israel treated 30,000 medical tourists, mostly from the former Soviet Union. There are reports that these medical tourists obtain preferential treatment, to the detriment of local patients. Some people come to Israel to visit health resorts at the Dead Sea, and on Lake Kinneret.
South Africais the first country in Africa to emerge as a medical tourism destination. It offers medical and dental care.
Countries in the Americas that are treating foreign patients include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala,Mexico,Panama,Peru Turks and Caicos Islands and Uruguay.
Brazil has long been known as a destination for cosmetic surgery. For non-cosmetic procedures, Brazil is only now entering the global market. However, Albert Einstein Jewish Hospital in São Paulo was the first JCI-accredited facility outside of the US, and more than a dozen Brazilian medical facilities have since been similarly accredited. Brazil requires visas for US citizens based on a reciprocal arrangement since Brazilians are required to obtain a visa to visit the US. Unlike in the U.S and other countries where medical procedures are simply done in an office, Plastic surgery in Brazil is done only in specialized clinics or hospitals.
Canada has entered the medical tourism field. In comparison to US health costs, medical tourism patients can save 30 to 60 percent on health costs in Canada.
Colombia is most likely the most underestimated destination for Global Healthcare in the Americas. Struggling with security and drug-related issues more than 15 years ago,Colombia is today one of the most thriving economies in South America and safe for tourists. Colombia’s major cities likeBogota,Medellin,Cali and Cartagena are already receiving more than 1.45 million tourist each year and the numbers are increasing. Global Healthcare has been identified as one of the main drivers for economic growth in the medical sector. Patients from the Caribbean already know Colombia as a first class destination for medical procedures and cosmetic treatments. Now hospitals and facilitators are beginning to successfully convince also US-Americans of the quality of medical services provided in the country. An independent platform to compare the quality and prices of medical and cosmetic services is being supported by the government’s export agency and regional initiatives. Colombia is overcoming its stigma and becoming a major player in Global Healthcare, serving needs of patients all over the Americas.
Cuba has been a popular medical tourism destination for more than 40 years. Thousands of patients travel to Cuba, particularly from Latin America and Europe, attracted by the “fine reputation of Cuban doctors, the low prices and nearby beaches on which to recuperate.” In 2006, Cuba attracted nearly 20,000 medical tourists.
Medical treatments included joint replacement, cancer treatment, eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and addictions rehabilitation. Costs are about 60 to 80 percent less than US costs.
A McKinsey and Co. report from 2008 found that between 60,000 to 85,000 medical tourists were travelling to the United States for the purpose of receiving in-patient medical care. The same McKinsey study estimated that 750,000 American medical tourists travelled from the United States to other countries in 2007 (up from 500,000 in 2006).The availability of advanced medical technology and sophisticated training of physicians are cited as driving motivators for growth in foreigners traveling to the U.S. for medical care,whereas the low costs for hospital stays and major/complex procedures at Western-accredited medical facilities abroad are cited as major motivators for American travellers.
Several major medical centers and teaching hospitals offer international patient centers that cater to patients from foreign countries who seek medical treatment in the U.S.Many of these organizations offer service coordinators to assist international patients with arrangements for medical care, accommodations, finances and transportation including air ambulance services.
Many locations in the US that offer medical care comparable in price to foreign medical facilities are not Joint Commission Accredited.
In 2007, Asia held almost 13 percent of the global medical tourism market, receiving 34 billion USD.
As of 2006, Hong Kong had 12 private hospitals and 39 public hospitals, providing 3,124 and 27,755 beds respectively. A wide range of health care services are offered. All 12 of Hong Kong’s private hospitals have been surveyed and accredited by the UK’s Trent Accreditation Scheme since early 2001.This has been a major factor in the ascent of standards in Hong Kong’s private hospitals. The Trent scheme works closely with the hospitals it assesses to generate standards appropriate to the locality (with respect to culture, geography, public health, primary care interfaces etc.), and always uses combinations of UK-sourced and Hong Kong-sourced surveyors. Some of Hong Kong’s private hospitals have now gone on to obtain dual international accreditation, with both Trent and JCI (and have therefore attained a standard surpassing some of the best hospitals in Thailand and Singapore). Others are looking towards dual international accreditation with Trent and the Australian group. Hong Kong public hospitals have yet to commit to external accreditation.
India’s medical tourism sector is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 30%.The Indian government is taking steps to address infrastructure issues that hinder the country’s growth in medical tourism.
Listed on CNN.com as one of the “hot destinations” for medical tourism, South Korea is quickly establishing itself in the field of medical tourism.
Malaysia is ranked in the top five destinations for health tourism.
The majority of the foreign patients seeking medical treatments in Malaysia are from Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, and West Asia.In 2012, Malaysia received 671,727 patients from around the globe.
In 2008, it was estimated that on average New Zealand’s surgical costs are around 15 to 20% the cost of the same surgical procedure in the USA.Companies had been set up to promote the use of New Zealand’s private medical facilities by American customers through emphasizing the familiar culture and English language along with New Zealand’s scenic beauty.
Medical tourism is a large and growing sector within Thailand’s extensive tourism and healthcare industries. The country is extremely attractive to potential medical tourists and international patients for a number of important reasons: it has many internationally accredited hospitals, including 30 JCI-accredited hospitals; it has experienced, often Western-trained medical professionals; it has the latest medical technology; and it has significantly lower costs of treatment when compared to corresponding procedures in the West. Taken together, all these factors – plus the country’s reputation as a popular tourist destination – have made Thailand one of the world’s top medical tourism destinations.
Thailand has the largest private hospital in Asia: Bumrungrad International Hospital.Thailand was also the first Asian country to achieve the prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation in 2002.
In 2005, one Bangkok hospital took in 150,000 treatment seekers from abroad.
To promote medical tourism, the Japanese government issues six-month entry visas to travellers entering Japan to receive medical care, double the duration of regular tourist visas. An estimated two percent of foreign visitors to Japan came for medical care. Japan’s medical system is reportedly strong in the area of cancer treatment.
Countries in Europe that have active medical tourism sectors include Turkey,Romania,Cyprus,Germany,Hungary,Estonia,Lithuania,Malta,Poland,Portugal,Czech Republic,Slovakia,Spain,Bulgaria and Ukraine.
In 2006 it was ruled that under the conditions of the E112 European health scheme, UK health authorities had to pay the bill if one of their patients could establish urgent medical reasons for seeking quicker treatment in another European union country.
National Health Service (England) is public but some private hospitals and clinics in the United Kingdom are medical tourism destinations, especially London. Nevertheless, as at the present time very few UK private hospitals have gone through independent international accreditation (they only have the mandatory registration with the UK’s watchdog, the Care Quality Commission), so they have not as yet measured themselves against the best clinics and hospitals elsewhere in the world.
WHAT DOES IT COST?…
Costs can vary considerably based on the destination and the extent of treatment required.
WHO ELSE ENJOYS DOING THAT?…
Due to the confidential nature of such tourism, it is not possible to provide a listing of people who participate in this type of tourism.
You are likely to need a valid passport and perhaps a visa for tourism to destinations outside Europe, and you might need vaccinations. You may also need to carefully check with your doctor or other specialists in your home country whether any other considerations need to be taken into account. We also suggest you carefully check any prevailing security information in advance of travel.