Medical tourism is a relatively new term coined by international travel agencies and the mass media. It describes the fast-growing practice of traveling abroad for health care and medical services. Additionally, medical tourism refers to international travel by physicians and other healthcare workers to deliver these services. Medical tourism is sometimes called health tourism, medical travel or global healthcare.
Medical Tourism Services
Medical tourists travel to other countries for a variety of services, from complex surgeries and elective procedures to alternative and experimental therapies. The specialized services that are common in medical tourism include cosmetic surgery, joint replacement, cardiac surgery and dental procedures.
In addition to these common medical services, virtually every type of healthcare is available to health tourists. For example, reproductive tourism is a popular subset of medical tourism. It involves traveling abroad for infertility treatments, surrogate pregnancies and other reproductive techniques.
Cancer therapy is another reason for medical travel. Cancer patients, particularly those with advanced illnesses, often travel overseas for medical treatment. Sometimes the treatment involves conventional methods such as surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Other times, patients are seeking alternative therapies or medications that are unavailable at home.
People with rare diseases and genetic disorders also travel to other countries for medical help. They travel to destinations where the treatment of these conditions are better understood. They may also undergo experimental treatments such as stem cell therapy.
International Healthcare Accreditation
Because medical tourism entails global healthcare, there is an important need for international accreditation and quality assurance measures. The Joint Commission International (JCI) is responsible for accreditation in the United Stats. In Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, the Trent International Accreditation Scheme (TAIS) fulfills this role. Other organizations that are relevant to medical tourism include HealthCare Tourism International (HCTI), the Society for International Healthcare Accreditation (SOFIHA) and the United Kingdom Accreditation Forum (UKAF).
International healthcare accreditation varies in cost, quality, size, marketing scope and other factors. Many hospitals seek dual international accreditation in order to effectively serve a growing number of international patients.
In addition to accreditation issues, there are many legal concerns for those traveling abroad for medical care. Many legal and ethical issues are unfamiliar to medical tourists. As a result, many providers and patients prefer informal communications to avoid these issues and the ensuing expenditures. This, in part, keeps medical costs down.
Medical Tourism Destinations
Many locations around the world serve as medical tourism destinations. Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, India and other Asian countries are probably the most popular locations. Medical tourists also travel to Cuba, Columbia, Costa Rica and other Latin American countries. In the Middle East, Jordan ranks first among medical tourism destinations.
For many of these countries, medical tourism is a national industry. A large part of the gross national product (GNP), it brings billions of dollars into their local and national economies annually. Medical tourists support these economies not only through healthcare and medical services, but also through traditional tourism activities. Most medical travelers come from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and the Middle East.