Pros and cons medical tourism?
This detailed article examines the pros and cons of medical tourism. There is no doubt that the advent of the internet and the globalisation of healthcare have made medical tourism a viable option for many people. Now, they can research healthcare providers across the globe, compare prices and reviews, and even book consultations and procedures online.
While medical tourism offers many advantages, it is not without its pitfalls. There are risks associated with receiving medical care in a foreign country, including communication barriers, legal issues, and potential complications from the procedure itself.
What is medical tourism?
Medical tourism refers to the practice of travelling abroad to receive medical care. It is also known as health tourism, surgical tourism, and medical travel (Rogers, 2023).
Many people like this type of tourism as the procedures they look for can be performed in other countries at a relatively low cost and often without any delay. In fact, millions of people travel abroad every year for the purpose of medical procedures.
Key benefits of medical tourism
In many cases, patients can save significant amounts by opting for medical treatment abroad. These savings can be substantial, especially for costly procedures like heart surgeries, orthopaedic surgeries, and cosmetic surgeries.
According to Cooper (2023) over 2 million Americans go abroad for medical tourism every year, as health treatments are often very expensive in the USA.
Bypassing waiting list
Another major benefit is the ability to bypass lengthy wait times that are common in many developed countries. In countries like Canada and the UK, patients can face wait times of several months or even years for certain procedures. By opting for medical tourism, patients can receive treatment in a timely manner.
Access to treatments
Medical tourism can offer patients access to treatments and procedures that are not available in their home country. This is particularly relevant for experimental treatments or cutting-edge procedures that are only available in a select few countries.
Challenges of medical tourism
Complications in procedures
One of the primary risks in medical tourism is the potential for complications from the procedure. While complications can occur with any medical procedure, they can be more problematic when they happen abroad.
While many healthcare providers in popular medical tourism destinations speak English, there may still be misunderstandings due to language barriers. This can pose a risk to the patient’s care and overall experience.
Legal protections may be different in the destination country. This can make it more difficult for patients to seek compensation in the event of malpractice or negligence.
Casas (2023) reports that some of the top medical tourism destinations for many Americans are situated in Mexico (Border towns near the USA/Mexico borders). However, these towns are very dangerous and have caused death of many patients in the past.
Popular medical tourism destinations
Several countries have emerged as popular destinations for medical tourism. According to the Medical Tourism Magazine (2023) some of the top medical tourism destinations are Canada, Singapore, Japan, Spain, UK, India, and Costa Rika.
India is a popular choice for medical tourists due to its highly skilled doctors and state-of-the-art hospitals. Many of these doctors have been trained in the US or UK and offer a high standard of care. Additionally, India is known for its affordability, with costs often being a fraction of what they would be in the US.
Thailand, Mexico, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, and Turkey have also become known for their high-quality healthcare. Thailand and Turkey are very popular for cosmetic procedures. Mexico appeals to many Americans due to its affordable treatment and geographical position.
In terms of the number of visitors, Malaysia is the top medical tourism destination in the world (Copper, 2023). The country has a great reputation for affordable treatment and care.
Important considerations in medical tourism
Quality of care
People need to consider many factors when embarking on medical tourism. One of the key considerations is the quality of care in the destination country. This includes the qualifications and experience of the medical professionals, the quality of the facilities, and the standard of post-operative care.
Another important consideration is the cost. While a destination can offer significant savings, it is important for travellers to consider all the associated costs, including travel, accommodation, and any potential follow-up care.
Finally, it is very crucial to consider the potential risks and complications. This includes understanding the potential risks associated with the procedure, the likelihood of complications, and the process for dealing with any issues that arise.
Medical tourism industry
The medical tourism industry has seen significant growth over the past few decades. It is estimated that the global medical tourism market will reach 200 billion US dollars by 2027 (Statista, 2021). It is currently valued at around $55 billion.
As the industry continues to grow, so too do the opportunities for businesses in the sector. This includes medical tourism agencies, healthcare providers, and hospitality and travel companies.
Medical tourism packages
Many medical tourism agencies offer packages that include travel, accommodation, and medical care. These packages are designed to make the process of the experience as seamless as possible.
The packages often include consultations with the healthcare provider, transportation to and from the hospital, and post-operative care. Some packages even include sightseeing tours and wellness activities, allowing patients to combine their medical treatment with a vacation.
The future of medical tourism
The future of medical tourism looks promising. As healthcare costs continue to rise in developed countries, more and more people are expected to turn to medical tourism as a viable option. Additionally, the increasing quality of healthcare in developing countries is likely to attract more medical tourists.
The rise of telemedicine (remote clinical services) could also play a major role in the future. Patients could potentially consult with foreign doctors and arrange their medical treatment without leaving their home country. Software such as MS Teams, Zoom, and WhatsApp are already in use for that purpose.
Conclusion: Pros and cons medical tourism
Medical tourism is likely to grow massively in coming years. It offers a feasible solution for many individuals facing high healthcare costs, long wait times, and limited access to certain procedures in their home country. While there are risks and challenges associated with it, careful planning and research can be very useful.
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Last update: 04 September 2023
Casas, A. (2023) Why a million Americans a year risk Mexico medical tourism, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64832308 (accessed 03 September 2023)
Cooper, W. (2023) Medical tourism, available at: https://www.william-russell.com/blog/what-is-medical-tourism/ (accessed 04 September 2023)
Medical tourism magazine (2023) Top 10 medical tourism destinations in the World, available at: https://www.magazine.medicaltourism.com/article/top-10-medical-tourism-destinations-world (accessed 03 September 2023)
Rogers, K. (2023) Medical tourism, available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/medical-tourism (accessed 04 September 2023)
Author: M Rahman
M Rahman writes extensively online and offline with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.