Medical tourism is a wider term for travel that focuses on medical treatments and the use of healthcare services. It covers a wide field of health-oriented tourism ranging from preventive and health-conductive treatment to rehabilitation and curative forms of travel. Wellness tourism is a related field.
What is medical tourism?
Medical tourism refers to people traveling abroad to obtain medical treatment.
In the past, this usually referred to those who traveled from less-developed countries to major medical centers in highly developed countries for treatment unavailable at home.
In recent years it may equally refer to those from developed countries who travel to developing countries for lower-priced medical treatments.
Reasons for driving the popularity of medical tourism medical tourism
Factors that have led to the increasing popularity of medical travel include:
- The high cost of health care
- Long wait times for certain procedures
- The ease and affordability of international travel
- Improvements in both technology and standards of care in many countries.
- The avoidance of waiting times is the leading factor for medical tourism from the UK, whereas, in the US, the main reason is cheaper prices abroad.
- Furthermore, death rates even in the developed countries differ extremely, i.e. UK versus seven other leading countries, including the US.
International healthcare accreditation
International healthcare accreditation is the process of certifying a level of quality for healthcare providers and programs across multiple countries.
International healthcare accreditation organizations certify a wide range of healthcare programs such as hospitals, primary care centers, medical transport, and ambulatory care services. There are a number of accreditation schemes available based in a number of different countries around the world.
The oldest international accrediting body is Accreditation Canada, formerly known as the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation, which accredited the Bermuda Hospital Board as soon as 1968. Since then, it has accredited hospitals and health service organizations in ten other countries.
Medical tourism carries some risks that locally provided medical care either does not carry or carries to a much lesser degree.
Different infectious diseases
Some countries, such as 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.
Care service standards
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, traveling 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 are sunburned while healing.
Also, health facilities treating medical tourists may lack an adequate complaint policy to deal appropriately and fairly with complaints made by dissatisfied patients.
Receiving medical care abroad may subject medical tourists to unfamiliar legal issues. The limited nature of litigation in various countries is a reason for the accessibility of care overseas. While some countries currently presenting themselves as attractive medical tourism destinations provide some form of legal remedies for medical malpractice, these legal avenues may be unappealing to the medical tourist.
Should problems arise, patients might not be covered by adequate personal insurance or might be unable to seek compensation via malpractice lawsuits. Hospitals and/or doctors in some countries may be unable to pay the financial damages awarded by a court to a patient who has sued them, owing to the hospital and/or the doctor not possessing appropriate insurance cover and/or medical indemnity.
Issues can also arise for patients who seek out services that are illegal in their home country. In this case, some countries have the jurisdiction to prosecute their citizen once they have returned home, or in extreme cases extraterritorially arrest and prosecute.
I.e: In Ireland, especially, in the 1980s-90s there were cases of young rape victims who were banned from traveling to Europe to get legal abortions. Ultimately, Ireland’s Supreme Court overturned the ban; they and many other countries have since created “right to travel” amendments.
Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Tourism
The growth of Global Medical Tourism in the last decade has influenced the overall growth of the health care sector. Due to the multidimensional impact of Pandemic COVID-19 in the form of Health care crisis, falling global economy, restricted international travel, the Medical Tourism industry is going through a substantial time.
The CDC has listed various levels of different destinations or countries that are ranked from 1 to 3, with 1 and 2 considered safe to travel. A destination ranked level-3 is considered a warning not to travel to that area.
According to the latest IMTJ Global Medical Travel and Tourism, it is expected that the medical tourism industry is expected to be affected until 2021.
Top 5 ideal countries for medical tourism
Canada’s rank as number one in the 2020 edition of the Medical Tourism Index comes as no surprise as the second-largest country in the world boasts of a robust tourism industry that attracts more than 14 million Americans each year. Its proximity to the US affords the country a massive influx of tourists and patients who seek to bypass the long wait times and high healthcare costs at home.
Singapore comes second-place in the Medical Tourism Index, hitting top spot in ranking for the quality of healthcare facilities and services in the country. As of 2019, more than 500,000 foreign tourists visited Singapore for its affordable and quality healthcare services.
Japan ranks as one of the most developed healthcare systems in the world, by every measure. Leading recent advances in technology and medicine, Japan continues to deliver top-notch healthcare services to citizens and foreign tourists, most of which come from mainland China.
Spain is known as one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, with a tourist profile that pulls tens of millions of tourists every year. The country is ranked high by the MTI as the choice of medical tourist destination in Europe as it offers foreign patients excellent healthcare services with a beautiful travel experience.
The UK ranks fifth in the global ranking of medical tourism destinations by the MTI. The UK is home to renowned medical institutions including the London Orthopedic Clinic, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and the Cambridge Complex Orthopedic Trauma Center, known for top-quality healthcare services.