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Published On: Fri, Feb 21st, 2020

Our Guide To Medical Tourism

There are 14 million people that travel for medical tourism every single year. This is now a global industry, with countries pushing on areas of surgery that are particularly profitable. This can be anything from hair transplant UK to cosmetic procedures in Turkey to complex, neurosurgeries in America. 

This global industry has fuelled economies, making it obvious as to why destinations and entire countries are encouraging this trade. This becomes a little more complicated for countries that have a public, national health service, in which citizens are entitled to free health care, including complex surgeries, because patients are known to travel to these destinations to exploit this service. This becomes an ethical issue when you understand that these patients could be travelling from countries or areas of the world that have very poor health care facilities, limited access to education and low quality medical care.

We are looking at where patients are coming from, where they are going, and why:

image by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from Flickr Creative Commons.

Where Do Patient’s Travel? 

Europe is recognised as the world’s biggest, and most attractive hub for medical tourism. Research shows that patients travel from around the world, including from the United States and North America, Middle East, Russia and Asia. A study by Medigo investigates and finds that the motivation for travelling to Europe for medical care is both because of the cost of the procedure and the cost of the destination, as well as the quality of the care and access to high-quality health care. Healthcare across most of Europe, particularly Western Europe, is maintained at a high benchmark standard. For those coming from Russia and destinations with low quality health care, this is particularly appealing. Unfortunately, medical tourists travel to abuse another country’s free healthcare and have no intention of paying for medical procedures of a higher standard. This puts those national healthcare structures at risk, because there is too much demand with too little funding. As a result, long waiting lists occur. 

However, Europe’s hospitals, clinics and emergency services are much cheaper than the USA. This means Americans can fly to Europe, count on a good-quality procedure and trust that they are going to be taken care of, but at a lower price point than the cost of the procedure at home. Interestingly, the Medigo research highlights how frequently Americans will travel for healthcare, they are undoubtedly the most prolific medical tourists, always travelling to find cheaper alternatives. Interestingly, it does seem that those patients travel for non-essential procedures most often, including dental implants, plastic surgery and ophthalmology or hair restoration. 

Interestingly, the Medigo study does not report on inter-continent travelling in much detail.  As previously mentioned, it’s common for people to travel for things like hair transplants, dental implants or tummy tucks. This is because countries that do have a national health system often do not cover anything that is considered a ‘cosmetic’ procedure, and patients will have to go to a private clinic. This can be quite expensive for people, encouraging them to travel to countries where the procedure is much cheaper. Unfortunately, travelling for a medical procedure does have its pitfalls. People are saving their money and re-investing in other countries, highlighting a globally dependent economy. Moreover, it risks the quality of healthcare in countries with patient’s keen to travel abroad. This is because they are not getting the investment, they need improve education, facilities and more. As a result, it could become the norm to travel for basic medical procedures in the future. 

Author: Rebecca Willis

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