From cosmetic procedures through to medical services and rehabilitation, health tourism continues to grow and evolve across the world. According to Healthy Travel Media, publisher of Patients Beyond Borders, more than 11 million people travelled to another country in 2016 to undergo medical procedures. From the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Costa Rica through to the popular medical hubs of Malaysia and Thailand, the ongoing transformation of the global healthcare industry has opened the floodgates for healthcare tourism.
Over the last few years, the global healthcare industry has expanded beyond cosmetic and medical services into preventative and rehabilitative care. Medical tourism generated between US$60 and US$70 billion in 2015 alone, with additional healthcare services likely to double revenues within five years. Lower costs are motivating people to travel, with access to experimental and state-of-the-art medical treatments other key drivers of this boom. Dentistry and cosmetic treatments are two of the most commonly sought procedures, with patients also travelling to receive cancer treatment and organ transplants among other services.
According to Patients Without Borders, the top ten destinations for healthcare tourism in 2017 were Brazil, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Turkey, Costa Rica, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. While most of these countries are in the developing world, patients are also surprised by cheaper prices in parts of Europe and developed Asian nations. Destinations often become well known for particular medical services, with people choosing locations based on availability of services, industry reputation, and lifestyle considerations. Waiting times in developing countries are generally much shorter, meaning patients can access services when they are needed and avoid stressful waiting periods.
According to Daniel Carlin, M.D., founder and CEO of WorldClinic, “The best healthcare solution to a particular problem is often not found in your local medical centre or health system and I suspect that challenge will probably get worse before it gets better." While not everyone wants to travel overseas to get the medical help they need, growing wealth inequality and globalisation of the healthcare industry will continue to create clusters of hospitals and medical services on a global level. A substantial number of medical institutions and practices are looking to capitalise on the coming boom in health tourism, from expensive facilities designed to deliver exceptional care through to a wide range of affordable and accessible services.
There are lots of hurdles to overcome when receiving medical care in another country, including different standards of sanitation, inability to access insurance, counterfeit medications, travel concerns, and communication issues. While it's easier to get accurate information and reviews than ever before, language barriers and other cultural differences can be difficult to overcome. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website. "Receiving care at a facility where you do not speak the language fluently might increase the chance that misunderstandings will arise about your care." If you're planning on getting involved in healthcare tourism in any way, it's important to do your homework and reduce risks at every stage of the process.
Image source: Africa Studio/Shutterstock