Health tourism, also called medical tourism, is when people travel to a different country in order to obtain medical treatment. Originally, people from third world countries (or less developed countries) would travel to highly developed countries in order to receive better medial treatment. Lately, however, people are travelling from developed countries to less developed countries to save on the cost of medical care, or to receive procedures which may not be legal in their home country. Factors such as the improvement of medical technology in many countries, long wait time for procedures, and the high cost of health care have all contributed to this recent trend.
Pros and Cons
The biggest benefit of seeking medical treatment in a foreign and less developed country is because of the lower price. Even when factoring in accommodation and travel costs, it can still be significantly cheaper to receive a medical procedure in a country like Thailand than it is in the United States.
You also tend to get immediate access to treatment, unlike the United States or other European countries where you likely have to join a waiting list. Medical tourism also provides a chance to go on vacation, and many medical centers in places like Singapore and India offer patients world-class recreational facilities to help aid in the recovery process. There are downsides, however, and risk factors. The standards may be lower in a different country which could cause issues like infection, and most medical facilities that provide treatment to tourists do so without liability.
In 2013 alone, almost 1 million patients headed to Mexico for medical treatment, making it one of the most popular destinations for medical tourism. Many of these tourists come from Texas, Arizona, and California. Mexico specializes in dental work, surgery, and weight loss treatment. India is another popular destination. According to experts, India’s medical tourism market may reach as high as $4 billion in 2014. While India receives numerous patients from developed countries, it has experienced an influx of patients from surrounding countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, which have less developed health care systems. Some even come from as far as Africa. Popular treatments in India include organ transplants, orthopaedic, and fertility.
The Road Less Travelled
Perhaps surprisingly, the United States is one of the more popular destinations in the world for medical tourism, despite the high price of treatment and often lengthy waiting list times. In 2013, however, almost 1 million foreign patients opted for treatment in the United States. This is largely because the US is home to renowned clinics like Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Hungary is another popular destination, mainly for Swiss, Austrian, and German citizens seeking well-equipped medical facilities and cheaper dentistry. Dental procedures cost almost 75% less than what they would in the United States.
Costs and Savings
The biggest reason people leave developed countries to receive medial treatment in less developed countries is because of the savings. Compared to the United States, receiving treatment in countries like India, Mexico, or Thailand can be up to 90% cheaper than it would be back home. Even when factoring in travel and accommodation costs, it is still a significantly cheaper alternative. While open heart surgery may cost $300,000 in the United States, it can cost as little as $8,000 in India, explaining why many people chose to travel for medical care.