What is medical tourism?
Technology and globalization have allowed travel and communication to become faster and easier than ever before. Millions of people travel for business and tourism, and now medical tourism is attracting over 11 million patients per year. According to OECD reports, the most frequent treatments include dental care, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery and infertility treatment. Although there is no universal definition of medical travel, it generally does not include emergency cases or expatriates seeking medical care in their country of residence.
Where are the most popular destinations?
Centuries ago, ancient Greeks journeyed from all over the Mediterranean to a small territory near the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria- the birthplace of medical tourism. According to the Greeks, this territory belonged to the healing god Asklepios.
Today the most popular medical tourism destinations include Mexico, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Turkey. In Europe, hospitals and private clinics have started promoting their services. Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland are among the most popular.
Jonathan Edelheit, chief executive of the Medical Tourism Association, says that destinations often depends on cultural ties. Spanish-speaking patients might favor Latin America, for example. Edelheit continued:
“While five years ago most American patients who went abroad for cheaper care went to countries like India and Thailand and over the border to Mexico, many are now going to Europe, where care at top hospitals frequently costs a fraction of what is charged in the United States. There are private facilitators who help make the arrangements, pairing patients with doctors and hospitals and arranging travel plans.”
Why are people choosing medical tourism?
The two main reasons people choose medical tourism are long wait-times and cost. Recent statistics show that the average wait time for an approved treatment in the UK is now 18 more weeks or more- the worst in 7 years. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS), covers routine screenings, treatment for long-term conditions and end-of-life care, but often excludes prescription costs, optical and dental services, and infertility treatments such as IVF. Unapproved patients forced to seek out private practices, where high prices make many medical treatments unaffordable.
Executive director, Balazs Stumpf-Biro, of the European Medical Travel Alliance, believes that the idea (of medical tourism) is to make it easier for patients from overseas- whether from North America, Russia or the Middle East- and to see it as a solution because of its high quality and reasonable prices.
In the United States, healthcare costs continue to skyrocket. Many employers and insurance companies are looking at toward medical travel as a way to lower them. For patients, medical tourism can provide savings up to 80%.
Read More: How To Prepare For Your Trip Abroad
Why is medical tourism so cheap?
Clinics and hospitals abroad are able to lower their prices due to lower costs of living. The highest-paid doctors in the Czech Republic (Central Europe) make around £13,000 per year whereas, in the UK, salaries rise to about £48,000. Compared to other developed countries, the Czech Republic still has a relatively low cost of living. This means even top medical professionals expect much smaller salaries, allowing services to remain affordable while quality remains high.
For instance, a silicon breast augmentation in the UK costs £3,400-£5,000. In the Czech Republic, an all- inclusive surgery will cost you £2,600 including travel, accommodation, and insurance.
What about quality- will it suffer if travel abroad?
The most common fear people have when traveling abroad is the sacrifice of quality. Hospitals and clinics that promote medical travel understand this misconception and spend millions each year to ensure their facilities have the latest technology and state-of-the-art equipment.“In the past few years, Americans are definitely more willing to go overseas and now appreciate that there is quality there, whereas seven years ago they didn’t have that perception.”-The New York Times
Clinic and hospitals work very hard to earn accreditation from internationally recognized institutes such as the International Society for Quality (ISQua). Assessments of performance levels are determined in relation to preexisting standards. It also means that hospitals and clinics can be appropriately rated for risks. Accreditation is vital in gaining trust and ensuring patient safety.
What are the risks?
Each country is different, which could mean different physician and clinic licensing and certification protocols and medical ethics. To protect yourself, it is important to be familiar with the destination country and its regulations before deciding to travel there. For example, a therapy that is considered experimental in one country (like stem cell therapy) may be used in the private care institutions for medical tourists in other countries.
Unsafe medical practice is always a risk anytime a medical procedure is performed. Hospital infections, such as MRSA may be the result of reused needles or unsafe injection practices and blood supplies. Serious infections such as hepatitis and HIV can also be a transmitted from one patient to another. To avoid these risks, select a country which practices highly regulated medicine and a clinic with proper accreditation.
When considering a surgical procedure, patients should also assess the length of their flight. Traveling long distances after surgery can be dangerous and result in deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. To prevent complications, physicians advise that patients drink plenty of water, exercise their legs while sitting, and take a walk every 2-3 hours on long flights. For high-risk patients, they may prescribe medical compression stockings and anti-clotting medications.
Is medical tourism right for me?
Traveling for a medical treatment is a big decision and must be considered on an individual base. For millions of people, medical tourism has changed the way they look at healthcare and has become a life-changing solution. Lower costs and wait times have attracted patients from across the globe, and clinics and hospitals are investing to provide the highest quality of care.
Additionally, medical tourism platforms and agencies have made researching and planning your trip quick and easy. From the comfort of your sofa, you can search and compare prices, clinics, and procedures. You can also get free online consultations and quotes. Once selecting a treatment and clinic, you’re also put in direct communication with your surgeon or dentist, and all of your medical questions and a professional will address your concerns.
Medical tourism is the world’s fastest growing healthcare market and shows no sign of slowing down. Are you ready to join the movement?