The Medical Tourism Industry in 2011 and beyond.

Published: 11th March 2011
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Medical Tourism is a relatively new and growing trend in the healthcare industry, where people will travel between countries to obtain medical treatment. There are generally two types of medical tourists; those traveling to a different country to access medical services or facilities that are of a higher quality or treatment options which are simply unavailable in their home country, and those traveling to a different country in order to find quality treatment at lower prices than are available in their home nation.

Between industry associations such as the American-based Medical Tourism Association, and health bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a growing amount of information pertaining to medical tourism. However, as a developing phenomenon, quantifying both the exact number of patients engaging in medical tourism and the exact amount of money involved can be problematic, if only because a standardized method for classifying and documenting medical tourists between countries remains to be seen. For example, if an expatriate receives medical treatment in their country of residence, it is possible they may be included in medical tourism statistics depending on how the country they reside in reports such uses of medical services within their national healthcare system.

While precise worldwide data on medical tourism may be out of reach at the moment, what cannot be denied is the growing number of countries trying to get a slice of the pie. Currently, Asia is the largest medical tourism destination with countries like India, Thailand and Singapore generally being considered the front-runners of the worldwide medical tourism industry. The WHO currently estimates that around 2 million people a year will travel to another country in order to receive medical treatment, with approximately 1.32 million of the total number of medical tourists traveling to Asia for treatment.

The medical tourism industry generated around US $20 billion in 2005, and the Medical Tourism Association estimates that this could rise up to US $100 billion in 2012, providing ample reason for countries to consider kick starting their own medical tourism capabilities. Thailand alone reported US $1.4 billion in 2008 from medical tourists, with 30 percent of that sum coming from medical services and a further 50 percent from additional shopping by medical tourists.

Aside from entrenched Asian countries in the medical tourism industry like Thailand, Singapore, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and China, more than 50 countries have identified it as a lucrative business to cultivate. The Kingdom of Jordan was ranked by the World Bank 2009/2010 report as being the number one country for medical tourism in its geographical region and number five globally. Jordanís regional competitor, Dubai, has developed a healthcare free zone called Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), with over 90 medical facilities and 2,000 medical professionals to establish itself as a medical tourism destination.

Brazil, one of the many Central and South American countries to offer medical tourism services, has reduced the tax on cosmetic surgeries in order to bolster the business. Even Estonia is debating establishing healthcare services for medical tourists, with the Estonian Development Fund having revealed the "Healthcare Services 2018" study in October 2010, which analyzed the opportunities that a medical tourism industry may offer the country.

Medical tourism continues to look like an industry trend that is likely here to stay in a world with an increasing number of global expatriates. Global Medical insurance that covers international travel to receive treatment is available in some cases, but there are a number of factors that could see more medical tourism insurance plans as a future development. For instance, those who travel from wealthy countries like the United States or Western European nations to receive treatment, often do so because treatments can be up to 75 percent cheaper abroad. In these cases, the patient traveling to receive healthcare services usually either does not have insurance cover, or desires an elective procedure that is not covered by the insurance policy they do hold.

As it stands, many of the most prominent services to help potential patients source appropriate procedures and destinations for medical treatment are run by stakeholders in their respective countries. This requires patients to be relatively savvy about their choices in where and from whom they receive medical treatment. Currently, one of the easiest ways to ensure access to top level medical centers is to hold an international health insurance policy, as many allow instant access and coverage at almost any medical facility on the planet.

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