Medical tourism is a fairly new term used to describe an amazing amount of people globally that travel world-wide for health care. Why these people travel and for what differs, but basically there are two types of medical tourists – the regular tourist that adds a visit to the doctor for some minor treatment, as part of his or her holiday, and the tourist travelling primarily for medical treatment.
Before there even was a term ‘medical tourism’, it was common practice among the well-to-do in third-world countries to travel to the USA, Switzerland and Germany for medical care. However, since the year 2000, this trend has been reversed and now countries such as Thailand, are attracting patients from the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom.
This new market has grown as modern health care systems all over the world are struggling to meet the medical needs of their own populations. In the United States, the price of health care is beyond the means of most and there are an estimated 40 million people without health insurance. While in Britain, Canada and Holland, socialised health care ensures affordability, demand for medical services far outstrips supply and waiting lists for surgical procedures or specialty medicine can be as long as two-to-three years.
Today, governments, insurers and employers are carefully looking at outsourcing medical treatments as a way to improve access and lower health care costs for their citizens, policy-holders and employees.
Thailand’s health care services are about one-half the cost of similar services in Singapore, one-third the cost of Hong Kong and one-tenth the cost in the United States.
Who are the medical tourists and what are they coming for?
By and large, medical tourists are travelling for specialty surgical and medical services. The recent upsurge in the popularity of plastic surgery, however, has led to a new wave of medical tourists and headlines like “Sun, sea and surgery” or “Scalpel tourism” have helped create the buzz for this growing phenomenon. Medical tourism destinations, such as Thailand, promote the benefit of high-quality medical care as just one more reason to visit the kingdom.
Elective out-patient procedures like check-ups, dental care, and LASIK eye surgery are becoming increasingly popular and there is a growing interest on the part of the tourism industry to include these services as part of their travel packages. Higher intensity medical services, like spinal and cardiac surgery, pose a greater challenge because these medical services are not as easily packaged and require significantly more knowledge about medicine.
Bumrungrad Hospital, located in central Bangkok, is a major player in the medical tourism field in Thailand, attracting over 360,000 international patients every year from over 150 countries worldwide. But Bumrungrad is not alone. There are quite a few other hospitals in Thailand and also in out-lying regions that are aggressively marketing their hospitals to capture a slice of this fast growing market. Both Bumrungrad Hospital and the India-based Apollo Hospital were recently featured on the CBS award winning news program “60 Minutes” as medical tourism destinations for a growing number of Americans.
Reliable figures on the size and growth of medical tourism are hard to come by, as government and immigration statistics do not yet categorize inbound travellers coming for medical care. That said, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is actively promoting medical tourism as medical tourists on average spend more and stay longer than leisure travellers.
So, whether you are the casual visitor that will take advantage of some minor medical work while in Thailand, or you are planning your vacation around your surgery, Thailand is the place to go and get it done professionally and at an extremely good price.