The growing trend of medical travel is revolutionary because foreign medical services once carried a negative stigma of below par care and outdated technology.However,with advancement of technology and international medical accreditation as well as health care costs skyrocketing and transportation becoming easier,medical travel has been groving in both interest and demand.
Medical travel is in fact a phenomenon more historical than one would imagine.There are accounts from 18th century of wealthy individuals traveling to central European locales for the health-giving effects of mineral waters---specifically for cure of gout and liver ailments.One can also claim that health care has started to globalize long before patients started crossing borders.Outsourcing of record keeping and radiological interpretation,for example,is already a multi-million dollar business.In addition,medical profession is truly an international one---healthcare organizations in many parts of the world,including the US,are actively recruiting for foreign health professionals to combat chronic shortages.
People travel outbound from different countries for significantly different reasons:These include temporary visitors,residents retiring to other countries,immigrants going back to their home countries for medical treatment,people living in border areas,patients who are referred abroad by their payers and people traveling abroad for care on their own initiative.People who travel abroad for care on their own initiative usually do so for two main reasons:Access and cost.
Patients from less developed parts of the world mainly travel for the first reason:access to high quality of services (i.e.state-of-art technology,supply of professionals in some specialties and sub-specialties).Waiting lists for non-urgent procedures in some countries drive patients to look for alternatives internationally as well.
One of the fastest growing industries world-wide,global healthcare expenditure totaled 4.5 trillion USD in 2008.Accordingly,the high cost of health care in the Western world has become a major problem for individuals,employers,insurance companies and governments.In countries,such as the US,where employer-based insurance is dominant,average cost of insurance has seen a three-digit cumulative increase since early 2000s,an increasing number of employees are enrolled in higher-cost sharing plans and the coverage has shrunk.With the financial circumstances of the last few years,an increasing number of employers are aggressively looking for ways to control and reduce costs and are exploring purchase of some of health services from foreign providers as an alternative.
According to the McKinsey& Company Report on Medical Tourism(released in November 2007),medical tourism industry grossed 60 billion USD worldwide in 2006 and is estimated to grow to 100 billion USD in 2012.The majority of these patients are expected to originate from the US and although research is limited in this area, it is estimated that 500,000 Americans travelled abroad for treatment in 2005.This number translates into significant cost savings for individiuals and their payers.
Initially an industry catering for patients seeking lower cost alternatives in elective procedures, mostly cosmetic and dental, medical tourism today spans a range of complicated diseases and sophisticated treatments, including cardiovascular interventions, organ transplantation, neurosurgeries, medical and radiation treatment of cancers, major orthopedic, urological and general surgery operations, assistive reproductive techniques and robotic surgeries.
Increasing number of collaborations and partnerships between international providers, payers, public policy makers and teaching and search institutions will certainly facilitate expansion of both the scope of services and the volume.
Various mechanisms are available to assess the quality of care provided in foreign hospitals. Accreditation plays a major role in globalization of medical care through: provision of an external, objective evaluation, introduction of internationally recognised standards, recognition by insurers, payers and other involved parties, its value as a risk-reduction strategy and assistance to patients in informed decision making. The biggest player in international accreditation currently is Joint Commision International (JCI), the international arm of the independent organization which also accredits US hospitals. Established in 1994, JCI has accredited over 563 public and private institutions in 39 countries to date. Furthermore, many healthcare institutions are certified by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and some countries are developing their own, international accreditation standards and schemes.