|Doctor with stethoscope and globe in his hand. Photo by Jernej Furman. Via Flickr. CC BY 2.0.|
Medical tourism is a highly profitable industry that offers a range of medical procedures, highly specialized medical services, and tourism opportunities. It combines travel for health and medical services with recreational tourism. While on the one hand, medical tourism may reduce the current and future health capital of a country through its residents’ use of foreign clinics, on the other hand, it may also provide an opportunity for a donor country to provide human and technological assets and benefit from socio-economic growth.
In many instances, people may now choose the country, doctor, and clinic where they wish to receive diagnosis and treatment for a condition. Since permanent residence is not a determining criterion for receiving medical services, there is a growing interest in the development of medical tourism. Although the concept has been around since ancient times, in the twenty-first century medical tourism has become its own industry because of the potential for a stable, year-round demand for services. Studies have indicated the growth of this industry and have also demonstrated the need for regulation.
According to the International Medical Travel Journal, medical tourism is a fast-growing industry. In surveys conducted in 280 clinics and hospitals in sixty countries, 48% reported an increase in the number of international patients. More than half of these medical tourism entities expected an annual growth of more than 10% per year for the next five years, with the largest profits expected in the provision of cosmetic surgery services (55%); cancer treatment (54%); infertility treatment (40%); and dentistry (38%).1
Research published by VISA and Oxford Economics describes medical tourism as a progressive industry worth more than $439 billion,2 while the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions projects that countries with low prices for medical services could earn more than $2 billion.3
There are several reasons for the rapid development of the medical tourism industry in the last ten years: rising costs of treatment in developed economies; the emergence of a new segment of consumers of medical services who prefer to combine low-priced, quality medical treatment with the opportunity for travel; waiting lists for medical care in the European Union and in the Middle East; and the lack of quality medical care and appropriate treatment and diagnostic technologies in some countries of the world.3
In order to promote medical tourism, some governments are developing systems that combine healthcare facilities, travel agencies, and tourism-oriented insurance companies. These national programs aim to advance the country in the field of medical tourism. More than fifty countries such as Germany, Israel, Turkey, India, Singapore, and Thailand have adopted such national medical tourism programs, investing millions of dollars in the development of medical infrastructure, the construction of comfortable clinics with better equipment and innovative technologies, and high-quality treatment.3
The main aim of those who engage in medical tourism is to receive treatment for acute or chronic diseases or conditions. Factors that play into the decision to receive treatment abroad include: quality of treatment; availability of the latest technologies and application of advanced methods that are not yet available in the country of origin; cost of services; confidentiality; and the desire to obtain a procedure or treatment that is illegal treatment in the country of origin.
Factors in a country’s prospects for medical tourism include: the level of development of medicine and medical technology; cost of diagnosis and treatment; development of transportation and hotel sectors; the level of language integration in the country; legal framework; international image; and location.
Global medical tourism continues to rapidly gain momentum. According to the World Health Organization, by 2022 it will become one of the world’s leading industries.4 The greatest demand for medical care in specialties such as oncology, cardiac surgery, orthopedics, and neurosurgery is in Germany, Israel, Switzerland, Austria, and France. Popular medical tourism destinations overall include the United States, Germany, Israel, Turkey, India, Thailand, as well as Canada, Mexico, Britain, France, Spain, Jordan, Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and South Africa.4
In recent years, medical tourism spending accounted for about 2% of world GDP.5 A sign of the development of the medical tourism market in Ukraine has been reflected in the activity of The World Medical Tourism Association, which unites medical tourism associations from more than forty countries and is a guiding and coordinating platform for global healthcare.5 It is responsible for ensuring leadership in global health by setting medical research agendas, norms, standards, and ethics; providing evidence-based development and technical support to countries; and monitoring and evaluating health trends in the context of medical tourism. In addition to purely organizational issues, members actively address ethical issues, such as the ability of an institution to maintain confidentiality and abide by ethical standards.
Medical tourism agencies provide comprehensive support that is much broader than the services of a regular travel agent. Such agencies ensure quality and affordable medical care before, during, and after treatment; form treatment plans together with doctors from foreign and domestic clinics; and assess the price-quality ratio for various treatment modalities and facilities.
The trend of the current century is for triple growth in the interstate flow between people in need of medical care, health professionals, and medical treatments. In addition to the socially positive function of improving the health of a population, medical tourism also serves as a significant stimulus of economic growth. The development of a national market for medical tourism services helps to ensure a country’s integration into the global community and ability to abide by human rights standards. Strengthening cross-border integration of national health systems will contribute to the unification of treatment standards and payment methods for medical services, improving their quality and accessibility.
- Medical Tourism Climate Survey, 2014. International Medical Travel Journal, March, 2014. http://www.imtj.com/resources/research-and-statistics/ medical-tourism-climate-survey-2014.
- Medlik S. Dictionary of Travel, Tourism and Hospitality. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003, p. 274.
- Medical Tourism: Update and Implications Report. Deloitte: http://www.deloitte.com/…/ center-for-health-solutions/health/.
- WHO World Health Report, 2008. Primary health care: more relevant today than ever. http://www.who.int/whr/2008/overview/ru/index.html.
- World Tourism Organization UNWTO, http:/ /www2.unwto.org/news/20121206/requestexpressioninterestetcunwtostudyhealthandmedicaltourim.
KOZLOVA LIUDMYLA has a PhD in Public Administration and is Professor at the Institute of Public Administration of the Black Sea National University, Ukraine. She teaches disciplines such as management in public authorities and local government, crisis management, and management in public medical services. She is the co-author of five textbooks and manuals as well as a lot of articles. She is also a scientific consultant of the students of Master Program in Public Health.