Throughout much of recorded history, health travel was restricted either to the wealthy or truly desperate. But in today’s flattening global economy, the physical, economic, and cultural barriers that once separated nations from one another are dissolving. International travel and more lenient trade policies make it possible for those with modest means to enjoy the benefits of world-class health care at some of the most popular medical tourism destinations around the globe.
These advancements translate into a smorgasbord of options for patients who find it difficult or impossible to access affordable health care in their home countries. Today, Americans who suffer from grossly inflated health care costs often flock to hospitals in medical tourism destinations like Thailand for sophisticated procedures at a fraction of the price. In countries like England, where socialized medicine is the norm, long wait times and insufficient health care personnel have helped produce a steady stream of patients seeking treatment abroad. These medical tourists flock to countries like India, where a highly evolved education system produces thousands of qualified doctors and nurses (many of whom also study in the West). Low labor costs, quality medical schools, and heavy investing are helping to transform many parts of the developing world into medical tourism hotspots that show no sign of stopping.
While affordability and time are still the main reasons why patients trudge across borders for surgery, issues like quality and service are also important factors as well. In fact, medical procedures abroad are often better than what you would expect from primary health care centers back home.
Most countries vying for a slice of the multi-billion dollar medical tourism pie have expanded their offerings, invested heavily in medical infrastructure, and begun advertising aggressively. Competition has led to niche specialties with Israel offering maleinfertility treatments and South Africa promoting medical safaris. With an increase in the number of participating countries and available procedures, medical tourism is clearly a global phenomenon that is here to stay.