What is medical tourism?
Medical tourism can be defined as the process of traveling outside the country of residence for the purpose of receiving medical care. Growth in the popularity of medical tourism has captured the attention of policy-makers, researchers and the media. Originally, the term referred to the travel of patients from less-developed countries to developed nations in pursuit of the treatments not available in their homeland.
Today, we are experiencing both qualitative and quantitative shifts in patient mobility, as people travel from richer to less-developed countries in order to access health services. Such shift is mostly driven by the relative low-cost of treatments in less developed nations, the availability of inexpensive flights and increased marketing and online consumer information about the availability of medical services.
What really puts the word “tourism” in the medical tourism concept is that people often stay in the foreign country after the medical procedure. Travelers can thus take advantage of their visit by sightseeing, taking day trips or participating in other traditional tourism activities.
What are the top destinations?
Costa Rica, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United States
Why these destinations?
The making of a world-class healthcare destination is complex. We consider a variety of factors, including:
There are two major components of the service quality in the health care sector – technical or mechanical quality and serviceable or functional quality. Technical equipment is at the core of the patients’ diagnostic algorithm, while the functional quality is measured by the service offered in the healthcare centers (such as the services of staff, nurses and, most importantly, the doctors’ attitude towards the patient and their assistants). The service quality in medical tourism industry is a vital part in attracting customers.
One of the fundamental barriers in accepting medical tourism is the perception of inadequate quality. A key to overcome it is using adequate marketing strategies and quality assessment via accreditation from an internationally recognized institution. Such accreditation is pivotal for strengthening confidence in the quality of healthcare.
This confidence can be even stronger if accreditation is followed by an affiliation with reputable hospitals or health care systems in industrialized countries. Once healthcare providers are accredited and become a part of international referral networks, they can be appropriately rated for risks.
What are the top specialties for medical travellers?
Categories of different treatments and their availability also represent an important factor in decision to engage in medical tourism. The most common types of procedures that patients pursue during medical tourism trips are elective cosmetic surgery, dentistry, organ transplantation, cardiac surgery and orthopedic surgery.
However, a wide variety of services can be obtained through medical tourism, ranging from various essential treatments to different kinds of traditional and alternative treatments. Reproductive tourism and reproductive outsourcing are growing in popularity, which is the practice of traveling abroad to engage in surrogate pregnancy, in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technology methods.
In addition to cost, other major factor responsible for the increase of medical tourism is access. The lack of it, either due to the unavailability of the technology or the prohibition in the home country, can subsequently lead to medical tourism. The common examples are cytoplasmic transfer or stem cell therapy.
How big is the market?
Finding the answer to this question can be challenging, as estimates and forecasts vary widely among the world’s the top research firms. These disparities arise from inconsistencies in defining medical travel and a lack of verifiable data at the country level.
Patients Beyond Borders’ editors define a medical traveller as anyone who travels across international borders for the purpose of receiving medical care. We do not count in-country expatriates, tourists in need of emergency medical care, companions accompanying medical travellers, or multiple patient episodes that occur over the course of one medical visit.
With these variables in mind, we believe the market size is USD 45.5-72 billion, based on approximately 14 million cross-border patients worldwide spending an average of USD 3,800-6,000 per visit, including medically-related costs, cross-border and local transport, inpatient stay and accommodations. We estimate some 1,400,000 Americans will travel outside the US for medical care this year (2016).
Is the market growing?
Yes. The world population is aging and becoming more affluent at rates that surpass the availability of quality healthcare resources. In addition, out-of-pocket medical costs of critical and elective procedures continue to rise, while nations offering universal care are faced with ever-increasing resource burdens. These drivers are forcing patients to pursue cross-border healthcare options either to save money or to avoid long waits for treatment. We estimate the worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15-25%, with inbound patient flows highest from Mexico, Southeast and South Asia.
How much can you save?
Medical tourism represents a worldwide, multibillion-dollar phenomenon that is expected to grow considerably in the next decade. For the individual interested in health services, cost is the key factor involved in the decision to receive medical care abroad.
As healthcare costs in the US and other parts of the world are excessively soaring, many employers and insurance companies started to view medical tourism as a way to lower them. More and more countries around the globe start to see the financial benefits from this emerging market, so they offer premium medical services at notably lower prices.
The primary reason that clinics and hospitals in the developing countries are able to lower their prices is directly related to the nation’s economic status. The direct correlation with per capita gross domestic product of the country is observed, which is a proxy for income levels. As a consequence, surgery prices are from 30% to 70% lower in the countries that are promoting medical tourism when compared to the US.
Using US costs across a variety of specialties and procedures as a benchmark, average range of savings for the most-travelled destinations:
What is international accreditation?
Trusted international accreditation has become one of the biggest drivers in the growth of the medical tourism market. Responding to a global demand for accreditation standards, the US-based Joint Commission launched its international affiliate agency in 1999, the Joint Commission International (JCI). In order to be accredited by the JCI, an international hospital must meet the same set of rigorous standards set forth in the US by the Joint Commission. More than 600 hospitals and clinical departments around the world have now been awarded JCI accreditation and that number is growing by about 20% per year.
More recently, established agencies that accredit outpatient clinics, such as The Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) and The American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAASF) have launched international initiatives that address ambulatory care.