Posted: September 1, 2011 |  AUTHOR: KEN FOX | CONTACT ME


Medical tourism is defined as obtaining a medical procedure outside the country of residence. This may sound far-fetched but business is booming globally. More countries are trying to attract patients to travel for medical reasons, and spend money in their market. Some locations even offer medical tourism facilitators to help with all medical arrangements, including choosing doctors, a hospital, transportation, hotels and sightseeing tours, if requested. The bundling of services acts as incentives to travel for medical care. It is estimated that 1.3 million Americans will seek medical care outside the U.S. in 2011, with 35% annual growth (Source: Deloitte).

One has to balance the cost savings with risks, travel time, and the quality of medical care received. One U.S. physician states: “there is some very good quality care available in unlikely sounding places.” Many of the centers known for medical tourism have physicians trained and certified in the U.S. or Europe, along with the latest medical equipment available.

The granddaddy of Medical Tourism is Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. The 554 bed hospital has many U.S. and UK doctors who speak fluent English and are busy treating and operating on patients. It has more than 200 surgeons who are board certified in the U.S. It has 30 specialty centers, including a 24 hour Emergency Room and 19 operating rooms. The hospital has state-of-the art diagnostic therapeutic and intensive care facilities. It typically serves over one million patients annually, including about 400,000 foreigners. These include expatriates who live in Bangkok or nearby countries, plus visitors from 190 countries, who travel there for treatment. Bumrungrad is a public company, traded on the Thai Stock Exchange.

Other countries already involved in or trying to build medical tourism include:
1. Singapore, which has more than 250,000 patients who visit this city-country per year, with nearly half coming from the Middle East.
2. Costa Rica claims to offer U.S. residents a saving of 30-70% of what they would pay back home.
3. Brazil has long been known for cosmetic and plastic surgery.
4. Dubai has built a complete medical city with the full continuum of care plus teaching and training.
5. India is relatively new at medical tourism. However, quickly catching up. India’s quality of care (at better hospitals) is up to U.S. Standards.
6. The Cayman Islands will be trying to replace their image as an off-shore tax haven and open a 2,000 bed hospital and healthcare city, headed by a renowned surgeon from India (Dr. Devi Shetty).
Other countries interested in medical tourism include: Argentina, South Africa, and Malaysia.

The success of medical tourism globally has even prompted Orlando, Florida, USA to build a new medical city near the airport in an area called Lake Nona. It will include the medical school from the University of Central Florida, The Burnham Institute, a brand new VA hospital, a branch of the M.D, Anderson Cancer Center and a children’s hospital. Although originally justified by Governor Jeb Bush and others to attract high paying jobs to Florida it seems like it will, over time, attract patients from other places while friends and family can tour and see the sites in Orlando.

Globally, some of the initial medical tourism procedures sought were for cosmetic surgeries or major dental treatments. However, the demand for other more serious surgeries and procedures has increased. The major reasons people travel for healthcare is cost savings. Another reason is fast service. For example, the waiting period for a hip replacement in the UK and Canada can be a year or more, while in Bangkok or Bangalore (India) it can be the day after arrival in that country.

Medical tourism has a U.S. based global association. There are international medical tourism conferences held year round. The trend is for increased medical tourism in the future, helped by 43 million plus Americans without health insurance and 120 million without dental coverage. Patients in Canada, the UK and other countries with long wait times for elective and other surgeries and procedures will find medical tourism options increasing, and closer to home. Many wealthy Arab country residents frequently came to the U.S. for medical care (such as Cleveland and Mayo Clinics). This may change with the advent of Dubai Medical City, resurgence of Singapore as a medical tourism destination and increased visa scrutiny by the U.S. government.

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