The global medical tourism market is expected to reach $36 billion by 2032. Emerging trends show that medical tourism is evolving. Niche middle classes are travelling to developed nations and choosing quality of healthcare, over cost. Dubai has announced plans to become the medical tourism global destination of choice by 2020. The city intends to build 22 hospitals to attract 500,000 medical tourists a year and boost its economy by up to Dh 2.6 billion.
What are the commonly recognized trends for it? Let’s consider these in details:
Increasing Popularity: Medical tourism has been growing in popularity worldwide, with a significant number of patients traveling abroad for medical treatments. This trend can be attributed to factors such as cost savings, accessibility of advanced medical procedures, and long waiting times in their home countries.
Emergence of New Destinations: While traditional medical tourism destinations like Thailand, India, and Singapore have been popular, new countries have emerged as competitive players in the market. Countries such as Turkey, Mexico, South Korea, Costa Rica, and Malaysia have gained prominence due to their quality healthcare facilities, affordability, and infrastructure development.
Focus on Quality Accreditation: Accreditation and certification of healthcare facilities have become increasingly important for patients seeking medical treatment abroad. International accreditation bodies like the Joint Commission International (JCI) play a crucial role in establishing quality standards and ensuring patient safety. Healthcare providers are placing greater emphasis on obtaining accreditation to build trust with potential medical tourists.
Specialized Medical Tourism: Rather than catering to a broad range of medical procedures, some destinations have started focusing on specific specialties to establish themselves as centers of excellence. For instance, countries like Thailand and India have gained recognition for their expertise in medical fields such as cardiac surgeries, orthopedics, and cosmetic procedures.
Integrating Technology: Technology has played a significant role in the growth of medical tourism. Telemedicine and digital health solutions have facilitated remote consultations, pre- and post-operative care, and follow-up treatments. Patients can now connect with doctors and specialists from around the world, making the decision-making process more informed and convenient.
Wellness and Recovery Programs: Medical tourism is no longer limited to seeking medical treatment alone. Many destinations now offer wellness and recovery programs, combining medical procedures with relaxation and rejuvenation experiences. These programs aim to provide holistic care, including spa treatments, yoga, meditation, and other wellness activities.
Increased Government Support: Governments of various countries have recognized the potential economic benefits of medical tourism and have taken steps to support its growth. They have implemented policies to streamline visa processes, provide infrastructure development, and promote their countries as medical tourism destinations.
Even though medical tourism is diverse, motley and includes all imaginable directions (ranging from surrogacy to organ transplantation), let’s consider the picture of medical tourism over an example of the cosmetic surgery. The top three countries performing medical and cosmetic surgery in particular procedures include the USA, Brazil and China. There can be a significant difference in costs for popular cosmetic surgery procedures. For example, the average price for breast implants in the USA is $10,000 compared to the same procedure in India and Colombia at $3,500 and $2,500 respectively.
For any patient travelling outside their home country for a cosmetic surgery procedure there are risks and safety concerns to consider. These include the varying standards of care in each country, travel risks after surgery, minimal legal recourse should anything go wrong and crucially the issue of aftercare.
What is interesting about the phenomenon of medical tourism and the cosmetic industry, is that traditionally patients in developed nations travelled for cheaper costing treatments to developing nations. That is now evolving. Take Australia as a case study example.
A burgeoning middle class from the Asia Pacific region are flying in for treatment due to Australia’s reputation for excellent standards of healthcare. For this particular demographic, high standards in healthcare far outweigh the cost of treatments. Over 10,000 medical tourism patients flew into Australia in 2013, injecting more than $26 million into the national economy. Compare this to 2006 where medical tourism was worth $12.7 million to the national economy. In seven years, the numbers have doubled and continue to grow.