Medical Tourism & Travel: A Growing Industry
Medical tourism is an industry that is international by nature, due to relatively low prices of transportation and other costs, as well as the ability to do research online. These factors enable people to comparison shop, get on a plane, visit an interesting and often beautiful locale, and obtain the healthcare they need. Consumers can check national averages on websites like Guroo.com, and see substantial price differentials in medical costs. Then they can visit websites specializing in medical tourism, and look up procedures and estimated costs in countries all over the world. The approximate medical cost savings for travelling outside the U.S., are 20 to 80%, depending on the country, procedure, and facility. The Internet has opened a whole new world to consumers, enabling “shopping around” for the best price on medical care in much the same way that it has facilitated getting the best deal on a cell phone or pair of shoes.
A Transparency Market Research report released in July 2015, Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013 – 2019 states that the value of the global medical tourism industry was about U.S. $10.5 billion in 2012, but is expected to soar to US $32.5 billion by 2019. A recent Frost & Sullivan report states a much higher medical tourism market estimate of U.S. $50 billion to U.S. $65 billion dollars in 2014, growing at a rate of approximately 20%. According to Patients Beyond Borders, there were an estimated 11 million medical tourists worldwide in 2014, with 1.2 million of those from the U.S. They estimate the worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15 to 25%.
An article on medical tourism in AANS Neurosurgeon, highlighted the case of a 49-year old female executive diagnosed with single-level degenerative disc. She underwent conservative treatment, including extensive physiotherapy, which was unsuccessful. After exploring her options locally, she decided to get a single-level fusion performed in the Caribbean. Her third-party payer was more than happy to assist in getting her established with the offshore surgery center. The patient paid around $22,000, and her insurance company even paid for her stay in a luxury hotel. Including flight, hotel, and amenities, she saved about $70,000, since the approximate cost in the U.S. was $100,000.
A New York Times article featured the case of an avid sportsman, who at age 67, had severe degenerative arthritis that necessitated a hip replacement. Unable to afford the $78,000 price tag in the U.S. (and that was without mark-up to the device), he opted for surgery in Europe, which cost about 17% of that, inclusive travel. As the U.S. struggles to rein in its $2.9 trillion healthcare bill, the cost of medical devices like joint implants, pacemakers, and artificial hearts will continue to fuel medical tourism. Like many medical products or procedures, they cost far more in the U.S. than in many other developed countries.
Patients Beyond Borders states that the factors that make a destination world-class for medical tourism are complex, but include the following:
- Government and private sector investment in healthcare infrastructure
- Verifiable commitment to international accreditation, quality assurance, and transparency of outcomes
- International patient flow
- Potential for cost savings on medical procedures
- Political transparency and social stability
- Excellent tourism infrastructure
- Sustained reputation for clinical excellence
- History of healthcare innovation and achievement
- Successful adoption of best practices and state-of-the-art medical technology
- Availability of internationally-trained, experienced medical staff