April 20, 2024

Destination Health: The Rise of Medical Tourism

Medical tourism refers to traveling abroad with the goal of obtaining medical treatment outside a patient’s home region or country. In recent years, it has emerged as a major global industry worth billions of dollars. Many countries are aggressively marketing their medical capabilities and costs to attract international patients. India, Thailand and Singapore have emerged as popular destinations for low-cost, high-quality procedures especially in areas like joint replacements, cardiac bypass, dental care, cosmetic surgeries etc. This is largely attributed to the comprehensive treatment packages offered at fraction of costs compared to developed nations.

Factors driving growth in developing countries
The major factors driving the growth of medical tourism in developing countries are lower treatment costs, availability of experienced doctors trained in Western medicine, world-class JCI/NABH accredited hospitals and reduction in lengthy waiting times for procedures at home. Countries like India and Thailand have built new hospitals and clinics specifically targeting the needs of medical travellers. Apart from lower costs, these destinations also offer scenic locales, cheaper accommodation and meals which enable patients to recover in pleasant surroundings while extending their vacations. Aggressive marketing efforts by various governments through trade missions and electronic/print media promotions have also boosted awareness and patient volumes.

Rise of Regional Hubs in Latin America and Eastern Europe
Along with Asian nations, countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, Hungary, Poland etc have emerged as popular regional hubs for medical tourism. Proximity to the US market and cultural affinities have boosted patient arrivals from North America seeking orthopaedic, cardiac and dental treatments. Establishment of multispecialty hospital chains affiliated with reputed international brands has raised service quality standards. Lower costs along with convenience of location and no language barriers have made these destinations an attractive value proposition. Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation standards are helping develop a trusted brand image and boosting medical tourism figures manifolds.

Challenges in maintaining quality and safety standards
While the revenue and foreign exchange earnings from medical tourism are substantial, concerns have been raised about maintaining consistent quality and safety standards at par with developed countries. Key challenges include availability of skilled nursing staff, post-operative monitoring and rehabilitation facilities, scope for complications and follow up treatment on return. Language barriers and cultural differences can also impact patient experience and outcomes if not properly addressed. Strict regulatory guidelines and stringent accreditation norms need to be enforced to weed out unreliable operators and improve infrastructure. Focus needs to shift from just low costs to enhancing trust, standards, patient experience and building a sustainable long term industry.

Future outlook and trends
Medical tourism is projected to grow exponentially in the coming decade driven by rising healthcare costs in the West and an aging global population seeking affordable healthcare. Major trends include Inbound medical tourism where patients travel overseas for chronic disease treatment, wellness procedures, Integrative medicine and non-invasive treatments. More countries are looking at Medical Visa programmes to streamline authentication of foreign patients. Blockchain based platforms are enabling transparent pricing, online booking of treatments and seamless payments. Covid-19 led boom in telemedicine will further boost cross-border medical consultations. Top destinations are investing heavily to develop specialised clusters for niche therapies like stem cell treatment, cancer care. Overall, the industry is poised for an exponential growth worldwide.

 *Note :
1.     Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2.     We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile