Medical tourism is actually a relatively minor subset of medical travel – where patients travel out of their local market for medical care in search of some combination of lower price, higher quality, faster access, and access to locally unavailable treatments or clinical technology. Medical tourism/travel can be either international between countries or domestic within a country. According to News Medical Life Sciences & Medicine, medical tourism represents a worldwide, multibillion-dollar phenomenon that is expected to grow considerably in the next decade.

International medical tourism is the process of traveling outside of one’s home country to receive medical care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 750,000 US residents travel abroad for care each year, but the United States remains a large competitor in this market as it is 1 of the top 3 destinations worldwide for medical travel

The top destinations for medical tourism are: Costa Rica, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States. Patients that travel to the United States from less-developed countries are often in pursuit of treatments or technologies not available in their homeland, while people traveling outside of the United States are likely attracted by the low cost of treatments in less developed nations.

International medical tourists travel for medical procedures outside of their home markets for three major reasons:

1. High cost of healthcare at country of origin

The high cost of healthcare is the major reason why many patients travel outside of the United States for treatment. According to the most recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — an international economic group comprised of 34 member nations — the cost of healthcare in the United States is two-and-a-half times more than most developed nations in the world, including relatively rich European countries like France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Reasons for this include:

  • A hospital stay in the United States costs over $18,000 on average, with the second most expensive country being about $6,000 per stay.
  • Many other countries use strong regulation to set prices that hospitals can charge for different services.
  • Spending on almost every area of health care (including administrative costs) is higher in the United States than in other countries – to a great extent due to US providers bearing the cost of innovation as well as significantly higher compensation for physicians and other clinicians.

Other reasons for medical tourism outside of the US include access to treatment not yet available in the United States, as well as a desire for anonymity.

2. Long waiting lists for certain procedures

In some countries red tape and/or limited capacity creates very long wait times for patients to receive certain procedures. This is where medical tourism comes in handy for those that can find a similar procedure in another country.

An article published last year in the Calgary Herald explored the phenomena of patients waiting from several months to a year to receive critical operations in Canada, causing many to travel south to the United States to receive medical care. They blame this on Canadian policy-makers being unmoved by the chronic problems within Canadian Medicare that are contributing to increasingly long lineups for treatment.

3. Lack of complex treatment options

The United States attracts hundreds of thousands of patients each year that are seeking procedures either not approved in their home country or not available due to their complexity. Intricate neurosurgery, cardiac procedures, and even certain drug therapies are just a few examples of care that is only available in the US.

Patients Beyond Borders had a similar sentiment in their recent article stating, “US facilities and physicians are rarely able to beat the price at a JCI-accredited hospital in India, Turkey or Thailand; however, American specialists often are called upon to treat cases considered difficult or untreatable elsewhere.”

Arlington Healthcare Group helps US based providers attract inbound international patients or patients from other parts of the US. Find out more by scheduling a complimentary consultation!

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