History of Medical Tourism
Medical tourism has been around for centuries, though the concept of traveling for a specific medical procedure has gained enormous popularity in recent years. Its roots can be traced back to Greek pilgrims, who traveled to the small Mediterranean town of Epidauria in the Saronic Gulf. This area was the sanctuary of Asclepios, the god of healing, so Epidauria emerged as the world’s first recorded medical travel destination.
Medical tourism also had a following in the civilizations of the Egyptians, Romans and Japanese. As early as 4,000 BC, the Sumerians were building facilities around hot mineral springs. The Greeks expanded their medical resort industry around 300 BC as therapeutic Asclepia temples based on the original in Epidauria sprang up all over their realm. Hot baths, gymnasiums and temples were normal facilities at the Asclepia temples.
The Egyptians had always practiced a thorough form of medicine, and in 1248 the Mansuri hospital was opened in Cairo. It was the most advanced and largest hospital ever built, and stood on a creed to serve everyone regardless of their race, religion or status. Travelers came from all over the world to seek medical treatment at Mansuri.
Asia also has a history of medical tourism. India has a deep tradition of yoga and Ayurvedic medicine that has been attracting health travelers for 5,000 years. India was one of the world’s great centers of alternative medicine and remains popular today. Japan’s wealth of mineral springs known as onsen have also been favorite health retreats for their therapeutic properties for centuries.
Medical tourism appeared in Europe in the 16th century as the elite rediscovered the ancient Roman baths. Tourist destinations grew up around these spas in places like Bath, Baden Baden, St Moritz and Ville d’Eaux. Bath in particular became globally popular since it enjoyed royal patronage.
In the 18th century, England saw a boom of dedicated spa towns and sanatoriums catering to those who could afford to make the trip. These places were almost always centered around natural hot springs, as the mineral waters were believed to treat all kinds of disease, from gout to bronchitis.
The medical tourism industry has evolved in recent years to focus more on surgical procedures in countries where the cost is significantly cheaper than in the patient’s home nation. Citizens of the United States, for example, often travel to Thailand or India for heart surgery at a fraction of the cost of the same treatment in the US. Cosmetic surgery and dental care are other sectors of health care that can be done abroad.
As a result of the economic savings gained by traveling abroad to get medical procedures done, the booming medical tourism travel industry looks set to continue growing. Today, patients combine their medical treatment with a few days or weeks of relaxing holiday afterwards. The countries providing the medical services are also realizing the huge economic benefits of maintaining this travel niche.