Article #5 | Booming Medical Tourism Witnesses Changed Equations

Oct 01 2018
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Some of my articles on Medical tourism.
Articles #5 | Booming Medical Tourism Witnesses Changed Equations.
Global Medical Tourism.

The world population is ageing and becoming more affluent at rates that surpass the availability of quality healthcare resources. In addition, medical costs of critical and elective procedures continue to rise, while nations offering universal care are faced with ever-increasing resource burdens. These drivers are forcing patients to pursue cross-border healthcare options either to save money, or to avoid a long wait for treatment. According to latest estimates, the worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15-25%, with rates being the highest in the north, southeast and south of Asia.

In its earlier phase, medical tourism used to be west-bound, with wealthy patients from developing countries seeking high quality medical care in the US and Europe. Now in a reverse trend, growing numbers of patients from developed countries are travelling to developing countries that offer the best-in-line facilities and treatment at considerably lower costs, tilting the scale towards the east. The shift is also helped by cheap airfares and better research opportunities through the internet. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the now emerging destinations include the UAE, along with other leading destinations such as India, Singapore and Thailand. According to Patients Beyond Borders, which is considered to be one of the most trusted resources in medical travel, globally, Brazil is the leader in medical tourism, followed by Costa Rica, India, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the United States. Using US costs across a variety of specialities and procedures as a benchmark, Patients Beyond Borders has calculated the average range of savings for the most-travelled destinations as:
Brazil: 25-40%
Costa Rica: 40-65%
India: 65-90%
Korea: 30-45%
Malaysia: 65-80%
Mexico: 40-65%
Singapore: 30-45%
Taiwan: 40-55%
Thailand: 50-70%
Turkey: 50-65%

Lately, countries closer to the US, such as Colombia, are also trying to break into the market and are seeing huge improvements in safety and tourism. New hospitals and clinics are popping up all over the country, usually with affiliations to big-name hospitals in the US. The country is even building beach resorts to service
families that accompany the medical tourists. The global financial crisis has had a major impact for the growth of medical tourism, particularly outbound medical travel from countries such as the US. The prolonged US recession significantly eroded patients’ ability to afford domestic medical care. Increasing unemployment has likely contributed to the growing number of uninsured in the US and concurrently the cost of medical care did not come down in proportion to the decrease in consumers’ incomes, savings and investments. This meant that patients had to cut the amount of care they received or look for more cost-effective alternatives.

A key driver of growth in medical tourism is the technological platform provided by the internet for consumers to access healthcare information and advertising from anywhere in the world. Equally, the internet offers providers vital new avenues for marketing to reach into non-domestic markets. In countries such as the US, medical tourism consultancy has by itself become an organised business. With commercialisation at the heart of this process, the availability of web-based resources to provide consumers with information, advertisements and market destination, and also connect consumers with an array of healthcare providers and brokers has emerged as an important part of medical tourism activity.

A variety of factors go into the making of a world-class medical tourism destination, which include government- and private sector investment in healthcare infrastructure, commitment to international accreditations, quality assurance and potential of cost savings. Excellent tourism infrastructure, sustained reputation for clinical excellence, history of healthcare innovation and achievement, as well as successful adoption of best practices and state-of-theart medical technology are also equally important factors that determine the success of a medical tourism destination. Trusted international accreditation has become one of the biggest drivers in the growth of the medical tourism market. Responding to a global demand for accreditation standards, the US-based Joint Commission launched its international affiliate agency in 1999, the Joint Commission International (JCI). In order to be accredited by the JCI, an international hospital must meet the same set of rigorous standards set forth in the US by the Joint Commission. Nearly 500 facilities around the world have now been awarded JCI accreditation and that number is growing by about 20% per year. Countries seeking to develop medical tourism have adopted a two-pronged approach of growing their own health service and at the same time forging partnerships with large multinational players. Formalised links with widely recognised medical providers and universities (like Harvard Medical International, the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins Hospital), are becoming increasingly popular amongst hospitals catering to medical travellers. Cost is a major factor, but cost is not the only consideration for international patients to decide on any particular destination. A report published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has looked at the flow of medical tourists between countries and the interaction between the demand for, and supply of, these services. The report found that although medical tourists can access the full range of medical services, the most commonly opted services are dental treatments, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery or fertility treatment. The top procedures in demand for medical tourists have been found to include cosmetic surgery; dentistry; cardiovascular, such as angioplasty, CABG and transplants; orthopaedics, particularly joint and spine; sports medicine; cancer treatments; reproductive;
weight loss, including gastric bypass and health screenings and second opinions. Geo-political factors play a role, such as colonial history and trade patterns, in the decision about the destination, it is pointed out. For example, medical tourists from the Middle East typically used to go to Germany and the UK due to existing ties, while Hungary attracts medical tourists from Western Europe owing to its proximity. But the emergence of UAE as a prominent destination for medical tourism has added to the options of regional people, who can get the same quality treatment here at much lower costs. With rapid infrastructural growth over the last 40 years and boasting of some of the best medical facilities available in the world, UAE has naturally become a favoured destination, especially for people in the regional neighbourhood and the African continent. Over the last few years, we have seen nearly all hospitals in the UAE secure accreditation by the Joint Commission International (JCI). Naturally, this augurs well for the UAE medical tourism growth.

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