Medical Tourism


Medical Tourism – where folks travel to other countries to obtain medical care  – has always intrigued me both as an economic and travel subject.    I’ve generally heard glowing reports about folks who have travelled to Thailand for procedures like lasik and colonoscopies which  are done there for a fraction of US costs in hospitals that are like resort hotels.    As US health costs continue to skyrocket and continue to be far more than the cost of comparable care in other countries, the idea of combining fun and health becomes more and more appealing.     I’m even considering this idea for my trip to Vietnam in January.

Surprising to me was this report about the Medical Travel Industry which suggested how common it is for folks to travel to the USA for care.    The report also suggested that currently there may be some exaggeration of the number of people travelling overseas for care since some statistics include emergency and expatriat care in foreign hospitals.

Thanks to a blogging contest sponsored by the good folks at the Tourism Authority of Thailand I’m going to put some time into this topic, hoping to get better informed and maybe even be chosen to participate in the “fam tour” where bloggers will travel to Thailand to see several cities and facilities that represent this new and rapidly growing approach to medical care.

I’m starting a new page called “Medical Tourism” and will be adding to that content over the next few months.

Update:   Who needs a page when you can start a NEW Medical Tourism blog?     I’ve done that here.

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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18 Responses to Medical Tourism

  1. FoolsGold says:

    The United States is a destination for Medical Tourism.

    Those who qualify for free care in Canada also face lengthy waiting lists and a few other gatekeeping hurdles. A quick trip to the USA to confirm a diagnosis aids Canadian patients.

    It is well known that Thailand is a Medical Tourism destination for the transgendered world. In Thailand, many males turn to prostitution and it is quite obvious that a prostitutes income will always be far higher if that prostitute is a female rather than a male. Given such a situation, Thailand sees no need to have all the preliminary psychological testing that is imposed in this country.

    This country even has a few Medical Clinics that are run on a No Insurance basis. Procedures are priced at a bit more than an oil change would be, but the clinic is run pretty much the same way. In rural, poverty-stricken areas of the USA, the term “medical tourism” still applies but the tourist destination is often an annual clinical open house a few states distant.

    Some medical procedures should not be sought in foreign lands. Surgical resection of a hymen is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Treatment in the UK for Multiple Personality Disorder is not likely to be obtained since doctors in the UK who diagnose it or treat it are immediately investigated by the licensing authorities. And when ElectroShock Therapy was very popular in the USA, Canada put a crimp in the procedure by mandating a sixty dollar cap on the re-imbursement for the procedure, thus effectively ending its use in Canada.

  2. FoolsGold says:

    Actually, Medical Tourism is probably an inevitable result of globalization. An insurance company wants low costs. If foreign travel allows a lower cost to the carrier, the insurance company is likely to encourage an insured to trek somewhere. After all, alot of current hair-splitting involves approval of charges for procedures that can be conducted only a few miles apart, so why not split hairs over costs a few continents apart? Patients Without Borders?

    We already have Continuing Education being conducted in resort areas, why not have medical care be tied to resort areas as well? Just as doctors go to a medical conference for the golf and cocktail parties as well as the lectures, let the patients travel to a resort area as well. One hospital in Japan is already a world class art museum!

    • JoeDuck says:

      Yes, though it’ll be interesting to see how willing people are to make the trips. I think this is something that’s gaining acceptance over time and will continue to grow explosively. Free vacation plus a few hours for a colonoscopy should trump … a colonoscopy.

  3. Been fascinated with this topic ever since i heard an economist speak on it at a US Travel Association ESTO conference. A point that he really hammered home was the importance of medical facilities and those affiliated with medical tourism to step up their offerings and amenities. Wants have become needs and people now have higher expectations. i.e. they’ll opt for a hospital that allows them to have their dogs stay with them, or has wifi, gourmet meals, etc.

    • JoeDuck says:

      Thanks for checking in on this K! ESTO is a great travel/educational conference – I spoke at the Colorado one years ago on my travel Internet work for Oregon.

  4. horatiox says:

    No on the Big OP, FG! With proper counseling you will be, like, able to reduce those feminine tendencies.

    Interesting, but not really a solution to the US health care problems, JD–especially when considering airfare, hotels, bribes, etc. Electro-shock for the Peoples!

    The best h-c solution would be EU or UK type plans. Unfortunately the US demopublicans more or less sold out to pharma. and hospital contractors –so the middle class (and below) will be stuck with the corporate/private plans, or… choose those clinics that don’t require insurance (with Dr. Billy Bob and staff).

    • JoeDuck says:

      Right H, I’m not at all suggesting this offers much if any relief from our massive health care cost problems, though I do think it would be interesting to apply this model in a big way via Mexico or even Canada where you’d have a sort of “maquiladora” hospital system to keep costs down by sending people there. We outsource XRay reading, so why not more operations?

      • horatiox says:

        a sort of “maquiladora” hospital system

        Ah bargain hospitals. They have those like in Tijuana, other Mexican border towns–el cheapo abortions for one, or bizarre cancer treatments, so forth. A patient might think twice about going under or having a morphine drip–you might wake up without a kidney or spleen, etc.

  5. FoolsGold says:

    Outsourcing can gain some economic savings but its then hard to recruit newly minted doctors who will have their skill-gaining cases shipped elsewhere.
    Some videotelemetry to specialists violates state treatment laws, but its always legal to send the patient even if you can’t send the image.

  6. FoolsGold says:

    Don’t think that all medical tourism constitutes patients seeking lower prices, for a long time there has been a “medical spa” business wherein travel is ostensibly for a medical procedure but the primary motivation is the spa facilities.

    • JoeDuck says:

      Yes – I’m learning that a lot of medical travel is to the USA by wealthy folks for more expensive, higher quality care.

      Horatiox you raise another interesting angle to this which are the scam treatments – I wonder what % of the total travel medical economy?

  7. FoolsGold says:

    Scam treatments and Medical Tourism?

    Crossing geographic borders for outright loony treatments probably should be grouped differently than crossing geographical boundaries to seek out treatments classified as unapproved or experimental. I would imagine the bulk of the medical travel is to seek out specific surgeons or specific studies and yet the patient is still within the realm of recognized medicine. Think of a geek who travels to Silicon Valley to see some new hardware. Its a passionate interest and he has the money to hop on a plane if he wants to. Much of the medical travel is simply shopping for a more experienced doctor or a doctor who is doing research in a certain area.

    The outright loony procedures probably rope in the desperate, such as those selling the family farm so as to obtain some weird mumbo-jumbo. So many of those foreign clinics are poor and shoddy, I’d hate to think they were raking in millions and staying so filthy and ill-equipped by choice. Of course there was that one doctor, I think in Texas, who kept using the term ‘stable’ in relation to tumors in patients who would travel there for his treatments. Stable? Yeah, many of his patients eventually became so stable other doctors pronounced them dead! There is a big difference between such travel and travel for optometry procedures allowed in Canada but merely being studied in the USA.

    • JoeDuck says:

      Agree that scams and “unapproved in USA” are very differnt. Just learned that in India there’s a popular (and I think legitimate and high quality) hip procedure that is still not approved in USA – India is the world leader in that innovation.

      Still not clear what percent of the medical travel economy are the trips that combine tourism and a lasik or colonoscopy or dental work – that’s the sector that seems to offer the most potential for growth and “win win” low cost medical care.

  8. FoolsGold says:

    Florida and Hawaii doctors probably do quite well during the cold northern winters. Add in financial savings, not just pleasant surroundings and diversions and there is probably alot of money to be made linking local hospitals near famous golf courses. I would think Procedure Oriented travel would be the least profitable sector of the Medical Travel market.

  9. FoolsGold says:

    The money in USA health care is made by those with control over the flow of patients. Doctors can’t do much unless they have a patient stream and the only way a doctor can escape someone having control over his patient flow is to open up either a high-end boutique practice or a low-end “Quick Oil and Lube” practice. Anything in between those two extremes is simply some sort of captivity related to fancy abbreviations and endless permutations and combinations of the words Provider and Plan.

    So anyone who wants to get into Medical Tourism should focus on being the flow-regulator. If you can influence patient flow, you get rich. If you can control patient flow, you get very rich.

  10. Sophie says:

    Medical tourism is very common in developed countries where quality health care is assured… In Asia there are so many patients going abroad like the United States just to seek for better service on medication. It is expensive but it is not easy to just suffer from any medical condition and die without doing everything, right?

  11. Mike says:

    Medical Tourism helps save money for those people who don’t have enough money. I know that there big discounts in Europe. For example, you can save up to 75% on treatment
    costs compared to the UK. Medicare Europe is a British based company providing medical treatment services. They offer much more than “cheap prices”. Just visit their website and you’ll see that: http://medicare-europe.com/

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