January 27, 2008

What drives medical tourists?

They come from all over the industrialised world, from countries with relatively poor healthcare infrastructures and, in the case of the U.S., places with exorbitantly expensive health care systems.


The reasons for seeking treatment abroad differ according to country. In Canada and Britain, long waiting times for surgeries encourage those with sufficient financial resources to look for alternatives. In countries with relatively poor healthcare infrastructures, quality is the driving force for those with money.

Medical tourists from the U.S. are usually those seeking procedures not covered by their insurers, those seeking necessary procedures and who are provided with incentives to find lower cost options, and those who cannot secure medical insurance. Where they go depends on the procedures and the physicians. Cosmetic procedures are easily found in South America, while complex heart and orthopaedic procedures are found in India, Thailand and Singapore, and specialists in in-vitro fertilisation can be found in South Africa, Israel and Spain. In the global medical tourism industry, from cosmetic surgery to complex oncology, bargain prices can be found at a medical centre somewhere in the world.

Time and money provide the incentives for seeking healthcare outside the home country. In the case of public health systems with long delays, such as Britain, time is the motivation.

These medical tourists are choosing to pay for a procedure that would be cheap or free in their home environments, but is close to inaccessible due to the rationing of care. For U.S.-based medical tourists, money is usually the motivation. For the uninsured or for cosmetic procedures, savings of 50-90 per cent are common; even when those savings include transportation costs, recovery time, travel and lodging for close family members. For the insured, usually those covered by organisations that self-insure, financial incentives might be offered which for the middle-class worker can be significant.


Quality is a concern for potential medical tourists and what are now being called ‘offshore hospitals’ address these concerns by seeking and obtaining accreditation from bodies such as Joint Commission International (JCI), a subsidiary of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organisations (JCAHO), which offers accreditation to hospitals in the U.S. Several hospitals that offer medical tourism in India meet or exceed the standards of care of the finest hospitals located in the U.S.

The lower cost structure of these hospitals allows them to be more generous with resources for their well-paying clientele. Nurse-to-patient ratios are higher, private rooms are readily available and family members are often included in the trip and made comfortable in luxury facilities that resemble five-star hotels.

Dr. Milica Bookman, professor of economics at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, US, is author of the book Medical Tourism in Developing Countries. According to her research on the economic impact of medical tourism, 750,000 Americans are expected to have travelled abroad for treatment in 2007 and over six million will do so by 2010.

1 comment:

Arige Prakash said...

How Necessary Are Medical Tourism Companies?Does it make more sense to plan my health vacation on my own or to use a medical tourism company to help out with the details. The latter is more expensive but seems a great deal easier.



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