It may be difficult to imagine seniors boarding planes and disembarking in exotic places like India for medical treatment, but it is more commonplace each day. By the millions, people from developed countries are seeking medical treatment in emerging countries that offer professionally-staffed, well-equipped health care infrastructure. Seniors are a large part of the “medical tourism” market.
A principal reason “first world” people travel to some developing countries is cost. So-called “first world” medical care is extremely expensive. Even with the cost of travel and hotel accommodations, many seniors find that the steep savings on medical procedures, along with state-of-the-art equipment and personnel in India, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, parts of Central and South America, and other emerging countries make medical tourism very cost effective. Some procedures are 25%, 30%, 40%, and even 90% less expensive in the developing world. A survey by Patients Beyond Borders showed that a coronary artery bypass operation in India, for example, would cost about 10% of what it costs in the United States.
Medical tourists usually seek treatment aimed at elderly
The most common treatments that people seek in medical tourism are those serving the aged: cardiovascular surgery, hip and knee replacements, and orthopedic and cosmetic procedures.
Since it is not easy for even well-trained foreign physicians to enter medical practice in the United States, they are now setting up state-of-the-art practices where they are and inviting patients to “go to the doctor” by airplane.
Countries like India have been investing in their educational system for decades, and the fruits of a highly professional, well-trained medical work force, including numerous physicians (compared to the physician shortage in the United States) are beginning to appear. The waiting time is usually much shorter in these countries, and the people seeking care greatly value that side of medical tourism.
The typical medical tourist has not reached Medicare age, lacks insurance
The average traveler seeking medical treatment abroad does not have insurance and is a few years short of being eligible for Medicare. Seeing a market among seniors in other countries, some hospitals in Asia have opened departments that cater to senior medical tourists.
The market is big. Patients Beyond Borders estimates that the global medical tourism market is a $20 billion-a-year industry; other estimates go far beyond that number, and the market is growing. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that there may be up to 50 million medical tourists worldwide each year. A lack of accurate numbers causes the OECD to say that some low estimates may be closer to 60,000. The actual figure is somewhere in between or something in the tens of millions. Patients Beyond Borders anticipates a growth of 15% to 20% in the number of domestic patients seen abroad each year.
…medical tourism drives the economy of a developing nation and creates more opportunities for many…
Hospitals worldwide are seeking accreditation by the Joint Commission International (a highly respected accreditation source). They are seeking to become part of what Jeremy Abbate, publisher of Scientific American Worldview, said is simply one more trend toward globalization and the democratization of services. Medical tourism empowers those who would not otherwise be able to have access. Abbate wrote the Foreword to the third edition of the Patients Beyond Borders guide to medical tourism, which was authored by Josef Woodman. Abbate said medical tourism drives the economy of a developing nation and creates more opportunities for many, including qualified doctors and other medical personnel. This can lead to innovation through clinical trials, the forging of new international alliances, internationalization of pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and medical research. Industries that complement the health care industry benefit as well.
Medical tourism is a win-win for the developed and developing worlds. Abbate notes that there is a universalism to the human instinct to seek and give care, regardless of differences in language, culture, ethnicity, etc. A person in pain and in need of medical help being met by a team of caring, trained professionals who want to render help, is a symbol of human relationship that goes beyond time and place and into the realm where we are all one, in need of one another.
Akitunde, Anthonia.(June 4, 2012). Medical Tourism: Why More Boomers Are Going Abroad for Treatment. Huffington Post. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/04/medical-tourism-health-tourism-medical-travel_n_1551217.html. Retrieved 1/13/2016.
Health-Tourism.com. Medical Tourism Statistics and Facts. Available at https://www.health-tourism.com/medical-tourism/statistics/. Retrieved 1/14/2013.
Lagace, Martha. (Dec. 17, 2007). The Rise of Medical Tourism. Harvard Business School’s newsletter, Working Knowledge. Available at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/the-rise-of-medical-tourism.
Lunt, N., Smith, R., Exworthy, M., Green, S. T., Horsfall, D., and Mannion, R. Medical Tourism: Treatments, Markets and Health System Implications: A scoping review. Available at http://www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/48723982.pdf.
Woodman, Josef. (2015). Patients Beyond Borders: Everybody’s Guide to Affordable, World-Class Medical Travel, Third Edition. Foreword by Jeremy Abbate. Healthy Travel Media.