Fifty countries have been identified as having a medical tourism industry, with the most popular locations found in South America and Asia. Americans are by far the biggest medical travellers in the world, with an estimated 550,000 people a year travelling to places like Mexico and Argentina for medical reasons. Because healthcare costs in the U.S are generally high and not covered by national healthcare, people from all over America visit the developing world for heart surgery, transplants, and a wide range of other procedures.
Despite the massive industry created for the North American market, however, Asia is expected to overtake South America as the destination of choice in the next few years. The industry in Southeast Asia in particular is getting bigger all the time; with Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia three of the most popular destinations. India is also a popular location for a number of procedures, with the commercial surrogacy industry especially getting a lot of attention in recent years.
The number of people interested in travelling for dental, medical, and cosmetic reasons is growing all the time, with specialised medical travel companies more than happy to organise treatments and tours for a fee. While the uninsured population of America is still the most lucrative market for Asian hospitals and clinics, the rise of cosmetic procedures has helped to globalise the medical tourism industry. Whether it is a full facelift, buttock implants, or anything in-between, the Asian market can help people save thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgery.
Travelling overseas for any kind of medical procedure can be dangerous, however, so it is vital to conduct lots of research before you leave home. The possible dangers associated with inexperienced practitioners and unregulated industries are just two of the reasons why many people choose to stay at home, with a growing percentage also organising overseas treatment through local operators. These companies have relationships with hospitals and clinics and can organise every aspect of a trip from surgery through to travel and accommodation. While improvements in medical technology throughout the developing world have made some things safer in the last decade, there are still a number of potential dangers associated with the industry.
Along with dangers linked to quality of service, medical tourism could also be directly responsible for the spread of new pathogens around the world. The industry was partly blamed for the spread of the superbug NDM-1 a few years ago, after the bacteria was found in Britain, India, and Pakistan. Despite the potential dangers, however, the rising cost of healthcare around the world together with a growing interest in cosmetic procedures is likely to fuel this growing industry for a long time to come.