By Dr Tomislav Meštrović, MD, PhD
The medical tourism marketplace consists of an increasing number of countries competing for patients by offering a variety of medical, surgical and dental services. Many of these destinations pride on modern facilities with state-of-the-art technology and alluring accommodations.
Although a lot of them offer relatively low-cost services, very little is currently known about many of the key features of medical tourism. It appears that geographical proximity is a significant, but not a decisive factor in shaping patients' decisions to travel to specific destinations.
Established medical tourism destinations
Global map of medical tourism includes destinations like Asia (India, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand), South and Central America (including Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica and Mexico), South Africa, the Middle East (namely Dubai) and an array of European destinations (Central and Southern Europe, Scandinavian Peninsula, Mediterranean).
A number of countries in South and Central America have developed a strong reputation for plastic and cosmetic surgery, bariatric procedures, and dental care. India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are well-established medical tourism destinations that have become popular for patients in need of orthopedic and cardiac surgery.
In India, medical services are especially affordable, with prices as low as 10% when compared to the United States. Several highly developed nations in Europe, which includes Belgium, Canada, Germany and Italy, are enticing foreign patients by offering sophisticated modern care with an accent to patient service and satisfaction.
Traveling patterns between source and destination countries are well-established. For example, those seeking medical services in Hungary tend to be from Western Europe; comparably, some countries exploit longstanding historical connections, for example, between the UK and Cyprus, or the Malta and the UK.
Some destinations have established themselves as healthcare cities, or even "biomedical metropolises". Singapore was promoted as a center of excellence for biotechnological and biomedical activities since 2001. In the last decade, the emergence of the Dubai Health Care City has also been seen. The latter represents an attempt to attract an extensive number of Middle Eastern medical tourists to stay within the country rather than travel to Asia.
Globalization and medical tourism
In recent decades, significant political, economic and social changes have encouraged a more international role in health policy development. These interconnections between nations include the movement of people, capital and ideas, which has subsequently resulted in new opportunities and challenges for health care delivery and regulation.
The growth of medical tourism is supported by the regulatory regimes, recognition of transnational disease patterns, industry development, rise in low-cost airlines and shifting cultural attitudes about overseas destinations.
Important bilateral exchanges between members of The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also contributed towards a shift in pattern of consumption of overseas health services. Flows of patients from OECD countries to lower and middle income countries are also present - particularly to India, Malaysia and Thailand.
Last Updated: Sep 17, 2014