What is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism, or ‘global healthcare’ as it’s increasingly called, involves travelling to a foreign country for a medical procedure. This industry has been growing rapidly over recent years as more and more people seek faster or cheaper alternatives to the healthcare offered in their own countries. Occasionally the medical procedure needed is urgent, but more often it is an elective treatment such as cosmetic surgery or dental care.

The number of people seeking healthcare in foreign countries now runs in the millions each year. Most patients are Westerners attracted to the concept of quality surgical treatment for a fraction of the cost they would pay in their own countries. After receiving the medical treatment, the patients take a relaxing recovery vacation in the same country. Often patients can pay for their surgery, flight and a week or two at a resort for as little as a quarter of what they would have paid back at home.

Leading the medical tourism industry is India, with Thailand and Malaysia close behind. India’s medical tourism industry grows around 30 per cent annually, thanks to an aggressive marketing plan that focuses on all-inclusive package tours.

Thailand’s main institute is Bangkok’s renowned Bumrungrad Hospital, which combines luxurious accommodations with world-class treatment. Bumrungrad Hospital claims to treat more patients per year than any other facility in the world. Meanwhile Malaysia promotes its many neighbouring tourist destinations to match competitive rates, internationally-trained doctors and excellent facilities.

The medical tourism industry has emerged in response to the incredibly huge costs of having most surgical procedures performed in countries like the United States, Britain and Japan. Without medical insurance, most Westerners have no chance of being able to afford treatment, and sometimes even with insurance the costs are much higher than those offered by Asia’s medical centres. Medical tourism has become big business for these countries by offering realistic costs for patients.

Besides the obvious economic benefits of having your knee replacement surgery done in a place like India or Thailand, you can enjoy a well-deserved vacation afterwards. Depending on the nature of the medical procedure, patients can lounge on the beach or visit the major tourist attractions of the country. If the treatment is more severe, medical tourism hospitals such as Bumrungrad have accommodations that seem more like a 5-star hotel than a hospital ward.

Popular elective medical services include knee or hip joint replacements, cardiac surgery, cosmetic surgery and dental surgery. Patients in need of emergency procedures are also attracted to this concept as the wait period for certain operations can take up to a year or more in their own countries. Often they can have the procedure done immediately in another country.

Medical tourism fills a valuable niche that is desperately needed in countries with bureaucratically flawed or unaffordable healthcare. This industry looks set to expand at a blistering pace over the next decade as more and more people begin to trust the quality and see the advantages of having their surgery performed in developing countries.