What is Medical Tourism?
Medical tourism refers to the travel of people from their home country to another country for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment. Traditionally, people would travel from less-developed countries to well renowned, established medical centers in highly developed countries for medical treatment that was unavailable in their own country. The recent trend is for people to travel from developed countries to cheaper countries for medical treatments primarily because of the cheaper costs for the medical treatment.
Another reason for travel for medical treatment is that some treatments may not be legal in the home country, such as some fertility procedures.
There is a healthy mix of people travelling the world for surgery procedures, medical treatments, dental tourism and fertility tourism.
People with rare genetic disorders may travel to another country where treatment of these conditions is better understood.
Health tourism is a wider term for travels that focus on medical treatments and the utilization of healthcare services. It spans a wide field of health-oriented tourism ranging from preventive and health-conductive to rehabilitational and curative forms of travel.
Wellness tourism is another related field which is the branch that contributes to maintaining and restoring health and well-being in particular by using validated medical services.
The History of Medical Tourism
The first recorded instance of people travelling to obtain medical treatment dates back thousands of years to when Greek pilgrims traveled from all over the Mediterranean to the small territory in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria. This territory was the sanctuary of the healing god Asklepios.
Spa towns and sanitariums may be considered an early form of medical tourism. In 18th-century England, for example, patients visited spas because they were places with supposedly health-giving mineral waters, treating diseases from gout to liver disorders and bronchitis.
Factors that have led to the increasing popularity of medical travel include the high cost of health care, long waiting times for certain procedures, the ease and affordability of international travel, and improvements in both technology and standards of care in many countries.
The avoidance of waiting times is the leading factor for medical tourism from the UK, whereas in the US, the main reason for travel is the cheaper prices available abroad.
The Medical travel / tourism market, whereby patients travel outside their country of residence to seek medical care, is valued at USD 439 Billion.
Driven by ageing populations and long waiting lists in government-run healthcare systems, the global medical tourism industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25% year over year for the next 10 years, as an estimated three to four percent of the world's population will travel internationally for healthcare and health-related treatment, according to analysis by Visa.